Friday, February 04, 2011

Is Beijing The Next Cairo?

With regime change in the air in Egypt, a question that many people around the world are asking is whether the same kind of revolution is possible in the China of today. Based on our interactions with people from all walks of life over the past few years, I would have to say that the answer is negative. As I have repeatedly put it to my Chinese interlocutors...I just don't see that picture of Mao coming down in our lifetimes.

What are my arguments for the staying power of the Chinese Communist Party? All around us, from Beijing to the countryside, we have spent time with folks who are consumed with grabbing a piece of the increasing prosperity that is one of the defining characteristics of modern China. There are professors who are increasingly interfacing with their colleagues around the world. There are students who are obtaining higher education levels than could even have been contemplated just a couple of decades ago. There are migrants from the countryside who are finding work not only in factories, but also on the black market, as drivers of illegal cars and purveyors of pirated electronics.

To be sure, all of these groups have their beefs with the Chinese government and with societal development in general. Professors are often poorly paid and moonlight as teachers at multiple institutions, unequipped to produce original research on topics of their own choosing. There are students who after graduation become part of the "ant tribe." There are workers who find themselves at the mercy of corrupt businessmen and government officials.

So, yes, there is discontent bubbling just below the surface of the "harmonious society." And, yes, it is possible that some triggering event could unite all of these disparate walks of life into a single movement. And, yes, it would be sexy to predict that the regime will topple within some specified time frame. (I mean, imagine if you were the guy who got it right! You'd be the genius Chinatologist!)

In the end, though, I'm betting that there will be plenty more pictures of the Ballas in front of that gigantic portrait. We'll be getting older, but the Chairman will not have changed a bit...


Thursday, February 03, 2011

72 Hour Delay

What can you do when Mother Nature hands you a surprise vacation?

Of course, shoveling, sledding, and cookie-making entertained us for a while. But then it was time to hit the city for some DC winter weather fun.

Live Event Learning: Since Z is currently studying the Bill of Rights in social studies, it was a great time for a visit to the National Archives to see the real deal. Given the weather conditions, the place was empty so we had plenty of time to closely examine the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, too. In doing so, I noticed that the Constitution is in much better shape than the other two documents, so I asked the guard why. He explained that the fading is due to the fact that both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were on display at the Library of Congress for around 25 years (unfortunately across from a sunny window) while the Constitution was locked away in a vault. Now all three are kept in dim light, encased in special "everything-proof" glass, and surrounded by a special 62 degree gas which will prevent further fading for at least the next 200 years.

Rock and Fossil Hunting: The Smithsonian Natural History Museum has incredible displays of rocks, minerals, fossils, and precious gemstones (including, of course, the Hope Diamond, which is sporting a new temporary setting in celebration of its 50th anniversary at Smithsonian and is pictured here as worn by former Holy Cross student and model Hilary Rhoda). After a quick spin through the exhibits, we headed straight for the gift shop. Since it is always our tradition to bring a specimen home, we each made a selection. (I repeat, from the gift shop!) This time I was excited to add a fern fossil to my collection, having wanted one since I was around 7 years old.

Snack Time: Next it was off to the American History Museum...not to see Archie Bunker's chair or Dorothy's ruby slippers, but rather to purchase some astronaut ice cream. They sell some version of it at each Smithsonian museum...sometimes disguised as dinosaur food (freeze-dried mint chocolate chip) or polar bear food (freeze-dried cookies and cream). As for us, we'll walk the extra mile for neopolitan, thank you very much.

Art Gallery Pop-in: It's always nice to check out the random Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. Currently the Chester Dale Collection is on display at the National Gallery of Art. It includes an extensive collection of some of the greats. Even Picasso, Matisse, and Degas paintings are plentiful in this one-of-a-kind exhibition.

Lunchtime: Time for a hike up to Chinatown...not for xiaolongbao this time, but rather some Texas barbecue as only Capital Q can make it.

Exercise, anyone? Skating at the rink in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden in the snow has been on our list for a long time. While it wasn't actually snowing at the time we were ice skating, the fresh coating on the ground and sculptures made for a beautiful backdrop.

I'm thinking the kids were ready to get back to school so they could get some well-deserved rest and relaxation!