Friday, February 11, 2011

Firecrackers From A Guangdong Village To Chinatown DC

Our first encounter with Chinese fireworks occurred seven years ago, in the rural hometown of Lisa and Peter's grandparents. And so it was fitting that we were all together again in DC's Chinatown for the Year of the Rabbit celebration...

~Steve

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Most Unusual Chinese New Year

For a few years now, we have had the idea of heading down to Chinatown for the New Year's celebration. Thanks to He Laoshi, we finally made it happen this past weekend.

I have to say that for us "mainlanders", it was a most unusual Chinese New Year. We didn't even know what the Taiwan flag looks like, but we quickly figured it out! (After a false start during which Desi thought she was looking at scores of Tibetan flags!) Yes, we quickly figured out that it is the Republic of China, and not the People's Republic of China, that is at the heart of Washington, DC's Chinese New Year celebration.

My personal favorite moment came when one of the politicians on stage started by observing that Taiwan was a founding members of the United Nations and now doesn't even have a voting seat. From there, he made the connection to the lack of voting rights in the United States Congress for residents of the District of Columbia.

Yes, it was a local and global democracy party, a party that once again demonstrated how much the four of us (who naturally associate the Chinese people with the Chinese Communist Party) still have to learn...

~Steve

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Chinese Christians Speak Out

Here's an article by Ben Birnbaum that was recently published in the Washington Times on Chinese Christian dissidents...

Leading Chinese Christian dissidents blasted the Obama administration Thursday, saying it had done virtually nothing to advance the cause of religious freedom.

"For the past two years, in public it's been almost dead silence," said Bob Fu, founder and president of the China Aid Association, an international Christian human rights group.

He said private pleas to State Department officials to publicly mention names of jailed and "disappeared" Christian leaders had fallen on deaf ears.

"Although I see some similarities between this administration and the last one — of course, both put an emphasis on business and trade — at least President [George W.] Bush singled out religious freedom as a foreign policy priority. He was very vocal, he made lots of policy speeches, he was not ashamed to talk about it."

Mr. Fu, whose organization has headquarters in Midland, Texas, was in Washington on Thursday to join a six-member delegation of Christian leaders from China at the National Prayer Breakfast. Chinese authorities barred three of the six from leaving the country.

Religious freedom in China has been a growing international issue in recent years as the nation's Christian population has mushroomed. Though the Chinese government has given space to tightly controlled state-sanctioned churches, the vast majority of the country's Christian population — more than 100 million, by some estimates — prefer to join independent "house churches," which remain heavily persecuted.

Zheng Leguo, a prominent evangelist from Zhejiang province, said that house-church Christians "prayed for the re-election of President Bush because he cared about the religious-freedom issue and they thought having him in office would keep them further from prison."

"The Chinese-government-sanctioned church was praying for Mr. John Kerry," he quipped, referring to the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

Members of the delegation also were critical of Ambassador Jon Huntsman, saying he had not done enough to reach out to ordinary Chinese Christians rather than speaking to them through the "filter" of the Chinese government.

Human rights lawyer Li Renbing said that "Ambassador Huntsman should know that President Hu [Jintao] does not speak for the Chinese people."

"I have no comment [on Mr. Huntsman] because I don't know what he's been doing," said Zhang Dajun, one of two leaders of the Transition Institute, a Beijing think tank.

On Monday Mr. Huntsman announced his plan to resign his post on April 30 amid speculation that he may seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Scott Flipse, director for East Asia policy and programs at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom — an independent, bipartisan federal government body — said that "you can't prioritize trade and security issues over our human rights interests. They're interconnected — and you have to pursue it that way."

He said, however, that the failings on this issue were not unique to the Obama administration.

"What I've seen across many administrations is that we move in this undulating fashion between public condemnation and quiet diplomacy," he said. "And that gives the Chinese the ability to say that we're not serious."

~Steve

Monday, February 07, 2011

From Cairo To Professor Balla's Class

I received an e-mail the other day from a university administrator that, in a very small way, brought the turmoil in Egypt a little bit closer to home. You see, the university had fourteen students studying abroad in Cairo this semester. Now it goes without saying that these students have had their study abroad experiences cut short. One of the students, in fact, was tear gassed as he sought to take photographs in Tahrir Square as the protests began. (You can read about the experiences of several students in this article that was published in the GW Hatchet.)

So where does Professor Balla enter into this story? Well, the administrator who e-mailed me that day wanted to know whether I'd be open to allowing one of the returning students into a class I am currently teaching. Although we are fully three weeks into the semester already, the answer to this question was a no-brainer. It is through no fault of these students that they happened to land right in the middle of a revolution. So, yes, accommodations will have to be made. In the end, though, I'm sure that this student has already learned a lot about world politics this semester...

~Steve