HK Election Epilogue

September 5, 2016

It’s exciting times here in Hong Kong as the results from yesterday’s election trickled in over the course of the day.  When all was said in done, over 2.2 million people or 60% of the 3.7 million eligible voters turned out to cast ballots, which was a record high and surpassed the turnout in 2004 that came on the heels of the 2003 street protests where over 500,000 Hong Kongers marched to protest to possible passage a new security law that at the time could have severely curtailed freedoms here.  I was not able to vote because I am not a permanent resident, which only happens after you’ve lived here for over seven years.  But back to the main issue at hand, the results.  Of the 70 seats, six went to candidates from new parties advocating for either greater self-determination or outright independence from China after 2047, the year “one country, two systems” is set to expire under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.  The success of these new parties is a big deal for Hong Kong’s future because the six pro-democracy candidates are all under 40 and represent a break from the traditional pan-democrats who stood in opposition to the pro-Beijing lawmakers because rather than work under the premise that Hong Kong is a part of China and gently nudge Beijing to introduce more democracy in the city, this new guard wants Hong Kong to take matters into its own hands and push from the ground up for a greater right to self-determination.  The New York Times does an good job of summarizing the results and hints at what it possibly means going forward. Suffice it to say that the pan-democrats plus the localist / radical contingent took 30 seats in the 70-seat body with enough seats to veto those measures that require a super-majority to pass.  On a grander scale and as someone who considers Hong Kong to be a second home with the city being the first place I had ever been to outside of the U.S. save for Canada and where I lived for two years after college, the election results represent a break with the way things had been done in this city in the nearly 20 years since the handover.  It had been a tug-of-war between the pro-Beijing and pan-democrat lawmakers with what has been a pretty consistent string of Chief Executives.  Now with the introduction of this new element, which I prefer to call the self-determination or localist group instead of radicals, is seeking to create a space for Hong Kong to figure out its own destiny and prepare for life after 2047.  The big variable is how Beijing handles this outcome and what happens going forward.  The central government is completely focused on the G-20 meetings in Hangzhou, so the response has been muted and I would not blame the government for ignoring it with so many heads of state from liberal democracies in town.  The electoral outcome is an embarrassment and worse, an indictment of Beijing’s approach towards Hong Kong since the handover, especially in recent years with the half-assed approach to granting universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive and the alleged abduction of the five booksellers, which was a clear violation of “one country, two systems” since they were taken into custody outside of China.  The people of Hong Kong seem to be waking up and realize that China is not the benevolent overlord they wanted Hong Kongers to believe they were, though they have done little of late to reassure the city given the slow and steady erosion of freedoms here. I leave with this final thought, which I will unpack in another post.  Much has been made about how Hong Kong could not go it alone and I don’t know the ins and outs of whether independence is completely doable, but one thing to consider with independence or even greater self-determination would be the ability to revamp the Hong Kong government and create a prime minster or president-type position that would legitimately be tied to the legislature to ensure that both branches of government are working together versus the current system with legislative and executive branches that are completely disassociated from each other.  Such a revamped government with proper accountability to the people of Hong Kong and not Beijing might actually be able to do something to prepare Hong Kong for its next act and effectively tackle the challenges this city faces.  It’s just a thought.

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The Real China?

December 1, 2015

“Where is the real China?”

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been asked variations on this question from the American teachers at our school for which this stint in Shenzhen is their first time in China.  I struggle to come up with a good answer because I am not sure I actually know the answer.  Depending on the day and my mood, I recommend checking out Beijing for a good contrast between the old and new China with a bunch of government formality thrown in for good measure.  Or maybe I extol the history in Xian with its terra cotta warriors and ancient city walls still standing.  Or even Yangshuo (阳朔) for its beautiful scenery and Yongding (永定) with its tulou (土楼).

Maybe Shenzhen is actually the best representation of the real China. 30 or so years ago it was nothing more than a 50,000 person market town through which the Guangzhou – Hong Kong through-train passed.  Now it’s a metropolis of over 15 million people, depending on how many of the surrounding towns you include in that count, and home to an endless supply of high-end malls, one of China’s two stock exchanges, and extreme wealth on display throughout the city.   This dramatic transformation, which at this point has been noted by anyone who has spent time here or in any number of China’s other Tier One and Tier Two cities, is almost a given when speaking about China. However, the teachers for whom Shenzhen represents their introduction to China, something rings hollow about the city and the experience.  It’s not that it’s not pleasant or convenient, but it almost feels too easy and not what they expected of China.  But I have to wonder what they expected China to be if not a temple of consumerism and capitalism with very little in the way of apparent angst about the country’s problems and where it’s going.

Just an aside to note that I must give props to my dad for bringing to my attention Andrew Jacobs’ “Notes on the China I’m Leaving Behind“, which was published in this past Sunday’s New York Times.  In short, it’s his take on where China is at after spending almost eight years on the ground.  It means more to me that my dad brought it to my attention because I’d like to think that it’s my being here on the ground that caused him to stop and read it whereas if I wasn’t here, there might have been the chance that he would have skipped over Jacobs’ piece.   Thanks, dad.

Jacobs notes this disconnect between the shiny veneer of consumerism and deeper problems that lurk beneath this surface.  He writes, “[T]he Communist Party, largely through fear and intimidation, seems to have trained much of the population to channel their energies into the pursuit of consumerism.”  This sentence gets to the heart of what is so strange about China, especially to Americans who are so used to the constant bombardment of negative news that makes it hard to enjoy Black Friday or Cyber Monday.  Most Chinese people seem rather oblivious to the problems around them, including a slowing economy, rapidly degrading environment, disadvantageous demographics, and the detention of anyone who dare challenge the regime.

Shenzhen is even more of a conundrum because it should embody the idea that the further one is from Beijing, the less reverence they have for the government and its policies.  That actually may be true to an extent in Shenzhen, which is richer and freer than most other parts of China, but the vacuum that exists from seemingly not caring about social and political matters is what makes the city feel so strange.  Its proximity to Hong Kong and relatively porous border only heightens the strangeness. Shenzheners cross quite regularly between the two cities, but it’s mainly to shop in Hong Kong because of its better selection of Western good and lower prices.  Yet, Shenzheners bring little else back with them except bags and suitcases full of purchases.

To an American like myself who goes back and forth quite frequently and have been doing so for over a decade, I still marvel at the feeling of how different Hong Kong is from the moment I step off a plane, train, or boat. I don’t know for certain, but would guess that most Chinese people crossing the border just see the city as a giant shopping mall.

Foreign Policy is running a special series on education and the relationship between the U.S. and China.  Zara Zhang, a Chinese student at Harvard, writes about her experience there and acting as a bridge between the U.S. and China.  Her experience at Harvard is a fascinating read, especially as someone who has taught top university students in China.  Among her many observations, one stood out for me at the end of her piece, “If China will one day become a more democratic and open society, it will probably be a result of the effort of this large group of culturally hybrid individuals whose heads are now used to Western thinking — but whose hearts are unchangeably Chinese.”

I have thought about this point a lot and I think it’s what any Western country that hosts a large number of Chinese students at its high schools and universities thinks, too – that by welcoming Chinese students into the halls of Western education, they’ll be imbued with ideas of freedom and democracy and bring those ideas back home to clamor for change.  The question that is not answered is whether those ideas will be subsumed upon returning home once those same students start working and realize that the current system is better set up to reward those with degrees from top universities.   Another way of thinking about it is this – will coming home and joining the existing system prevent these idealistic students from carrying out the reforms they may have been so excited to see through when sitting in a classroom in New Haven, Melbourne, or Oxford?  I don’t know the answer, but I would like to see where the Zara Zhang’s of China are in ten years’ time.

Jacobs’ point that the government has so successfully turned people’s frustrations and desires for change into a force for consumerism could mean that even successive generations with more exposure to people and ideas from outside China might not be enough to correct the social and political problems that China faces if it’s to make that jump from purely an economic juggernaut to a true global power.  For those who wonder if Chinese people actually care about these social and political problems, Jacobs makes it clear that there are people who are disgruntled, but they’re powerless against the huge tide of people who would rather shop than think about what ails their country, especially since there are a lot fewer restrictions on spending money than doing other things.

And for those looking for the real China, if you’re in a city like Shenzhen, you’re probably experiencing it every day.  Just walk to any one of the many malls on a Saturday afternoon and wander around taking in the people milling about and there you have it.  Happy shopping.

 

Intelligent vs. Smart

June 19, 2012

I’m almost at the halfway mark of my time teaching in Linyi and like most things in life the older you get, the time here is flying by.  I’m thinking back to a week and a half ago when I was battling jet lag in Beijing and calling my parents every hour on the hour from 3am until 8am China time because they were the only ones who could soothe my jet lag-induced angst.  Now I find myself re-integrated into Linyi life and constantly surprised at how familiar the city feels to me after only being back for a week and a half.  It’s still an isolating existence in a lot of ways because even when I am around people, I find myself speaking in either halting Chinese or slow and booming English.  But I will say that being back has been good for my Chinese and I find that the lessons I have been taking in New York have actually helped with my pronunciation because I am getting less blank stares upon first speaking whereas it used to take three or four tries before anyone understood me.  Of course I need to think about my tones beforehand because if I just start speaking, it has the potential to end up as a disaster.

I have some downtime because my classes were re-arranged from morning to afternoon, without any real advance warning as is the norm in China.  My writing may be a bit disjointed because there are a few strands of thought that I want to address and I am not sure if they are all interrelated, but I am going to try my best to bring it all together.

A good friend of mine, myBITblog, who has been living in Hong Kong for the past few years and an ardent and valued supporter of my writing, commented on my post last week “Fill in the Bubble” that the American media could be construed as just as controlled and controlling as the media in China and that Americans rarely look beyond the box given them.  I tend to agree with my friend that many Americans do not care to look beyond their own backyards, but I think the choice to be parochial is different than being programmed to be parochial.  Many Americans may not choose to look beyond their own worlds, but they have the option to do so.  If I do not want to read only the conservative op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal or similarly liberal op-ed pages of the New York Times, I can go out and augment those views with a wide array of opinions across the spectrum.  We may have the opposite problem in America of too much choice to the point where we can pick a news source most closely aligned with our opinions and never venture too far beyond that, but I still argue that the breadth of choice is what is lacking for many people here in China.  That is not to say that there are not bloggers, authors, and others who operate at the fringe of public discourse who present alternative viewpoints, but most people either do not have access to these voices or worse, do not care to seek out these voices.  The New York Times this past weekend had an interesting article about how Chinese writers need to be more nimble to evade sensors, but I wonder how many people actually seek out these writers who are creatively dodging the paranoia of the government to express themselves.

I think back to my student Qi Zhichao who asked me about mercy killings, which required him to think beyond the given course materials.  At dinner with the other two professors from UNH we were talking about our students and state of university education in China.  We have been exposed to the same students during this summer session, so it was possible to canvass opinions on certain students that made an impact in our classes.  If you remember, I had a student two years ago, Karen, who met me at my car every morning, helped me with daily classroom tasks, and accompanied me to lunch.  She is graduating this year as one of the top students in her class and passed her civil service exam with flying colors, so she will be returning to her hometown of Jinan (also the capital of Shandong province where I am based) to work for the government.  Over dinner we all acknowledged that she was very smart, but I proffered that I did not think she was very intelligent.  The difference being that she can take a test like nobody’s business, but she did not think beyond what she was told to think about.  She did very well because she mastered all of the courses thrown her way and worked very hard, but she was not a thinker.  Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with studying hard and getting good grades, but that does not make a person intelligent.  Perhaps it’s the bias of my liberal arts education, but there is more to be said for someone who thinks beyond what they are told and draws connections between topics to ultimately think for themselves.  Qi has displayed signs of going beyond just what he is told in class, but students like that are few and far between.  Smart does not always equal intelligent.  Perhaps there are more of them at the top schools like Beida and Tsinghua, but I think it’s a byproduct of an education geared to massive tests that determine the next step in your education that leaves little room for people to think outside of the box.  And it is for this reason that I think the media in China can get away with just following the party line without any real push back from the general population.  Sure there are magazines and other publications that offer alternative viewpoints, like Caixin, which occasionally publishes articles from economists whose ideas on the economy may be at odds with the government’s vision.  But the overall effect of the government’s near ultimate control over the media is that a population has been trained to not only care very little about thinking outside the box, but more importantly, not really having the choice to go outside if they so desire.

The education system is one of the main tools that the government has at its disposal to control future generations.  During the same conversation at dinner, we were talking about the poor oral English skills of our students and how they have very little opportunity to practice speaking English.  Apparently the university is looking to cut back on English instruction because they do not want to spend the money, but they have plenty of money to build a new stadium that would not be out of place at a Big Ten school and a golf course in the middle of campus.

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I also found out last night that the students in my class are part of a program where over the course of four years, they take all the classes that they would take at the University of New Haven in the Business program.  Most of the classes are offered in intensive bursts like my three-week U.S. Business Law class, but upon completion of all these courses, they are eligible to receive a B.A. from UNH in addition to the degree from Linyi University.  This arrangement is obviously very good for Linyi University because they can market this program to attract students from all over Shandong, as well as around the country with the lure of receiving a U.S. degree without having to go to the U.S.  The students in the program can also opt to go to UNH for their senior year, but for many students this decision is too expensive.  Now I think it’s a great program for these students, but if their English skills are not up to snuff, how much are they really learning during the course of their studies.  I am inclined to think that as part of this program, there should be a greater investment in teaching English to give the students the language skills to back up having received a B.A. from an American university and giving the graduates greater opportunities that come along with being truly bilingual.  My students complain all of the time that their English is not that good or worse, they barely say anything because they are embarrassed by their perceived poor English skills.  Linyi University should be investing in bringing more instructors to the school to teach the students oral English to solidly position their graduates for brighter futures, but instead the president of the university wants to cut back on this item in the budget and the result will be students whose English skills become even poorer.

Where am I going with all of this rambling?  There are definite problems in the Chinese education system (as there are in the American system), but I think what I am witnessing is a tension that plays itself out all across Chinese society – how to continue advancing as a society while maintaining control over that advancement.  The government has done an admirable job of growing the economy over the past 30 years and moving large numbers of people out of poverty.  However, as the government seeks to position China for the next 30 years, it’s trying to maintain it’s tight grip on people’s expression of ideas and thoughts while moving towards a knowledge-based economy.  Maybe they can do it, but there is something oxymoronic about building a knowledge-based economy when the knowledge is not freely developed and exchanged.

Today’s New York Times had an article about Ordos in Inner Mongolia and the local government’s efforts to build a brand new city about 15 miles south of the old city.  Reading the article, I was struck by how similar Ordos’ expansion appears to what is happening in Linyi.  North of the Benghe River, the local government has embarked constructing a new city from scratch.  New luxury towers and villas have sprung up on what was once farmland for as far as the eye can see.  Like in Ordos, the first tenant in this new “city” will be the local government, who is moving its offices from the old city around People’s Square (人民广成) to the new city north of the river.  Residents are presumably the next to follow.  The NYT article does a good job aggregating what I have been saying in my posts about Linyi and its many splendid towers with no one living in them.   While its amazing that a government can harness so many resources to build a new city entirely from scratch, the wonders of today’s state-driven capitalism can easily turn into tomorrow’s follies.  Only time will tell.

View of Linyi's new city north of Benghe

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place on June 4, 1989 and you would have no clue that such an event ever took place from spending a day here on campus in GZ.  There are no commemorative events that I have heard of, the closest one being the annual march in Victoria Park in Hong Kong.  Even my students, who are normally quite cheeky with me, did not make any mention of the day.  Usually they like to goad me with comments about Taiwan and Tibet, but they were silent in all three of my classes today.  I doubt they even know much about the event given that most of them were only one or two years old at the time it happened, but I would have expected one of them to come across something on the Internet and perhaps ask me about it to see my thoughts on the subject.

The Enormity of Tiananmen Square, April 2009

The Enormity of Tiananmen Square, April 2009

There are less than two weeks left in the semester and about three weeks before I permanently return to the States.  It’s really hard to believe that my one-year fellowship and relationship with this fascinating country is quickly drawing to a close.  I’ll still be keeping my eyes and ears open while I am here, but it also means that my posts will be tinged with some of that inevitable sentimentality that comes with the end of an amazing experience.

It seems that with the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen looming, all sorts of news outlets took it upon themselves to amp up the China coverage.  Two of the more interesting pieces are the Economist’s Banyan column from this week’s issue, “The party goes on” and Nicholas D. Kristof’s op-ed piece in today’s New York Times “Bullets Over Beijing”.

In the Economist, the main argument being made is that the Party is stronger today than it has ever been and that hopes for political reform are almost nonexistent since there is no force willing or able to take on the Party’s stranglehold on power.  Kristof’s op-ed makes a similar point and reiterates the familiar line that as long as Party delivers economic growth and all its attendant consumerism, it will remain in power.  However, he makes an interesting comparison between China today and Taiwan and South Korea in the 1980s with their sizable educated middle classes at that time, which were precursors for the democratic changes that swept across those countries.  It’s unclear if he believes that China is truly on the same path as those two nations.  Without going into the specifics of why those two countries are very different than China, suffice it to say that the Chinese government has been far more effective at sedating its citizens and giving them amazing economic growth than those two aforementioned countries.

After spending a year teaching at a university filled with thousands of bright students, I have been amazed at how much their spirits and curiosity have been dampened by an education system that leaves them uninterested in all things political, able to spout received wisdom at the drop of a hat on all sorts of issues of national importance, and scared to challenge or question things as they are.  The exceptions I have blogged about are just that – exceptions.  There is no critical mass of students with such ideas and the students with those ideas would never dare share them with other students for fear of either being ostracized, or worse being turned in for having thoughts against the Party.  

On the anniversary of this sad and tragic event, I tend to err on the side of the Economist and look on as the Chinese government consolidates its hold on power without acknowledging its own past mistakes or tragedies.

Culture Wars

April 29, 2009

For the past two weeks, I have been discussing an article called, “The End of White America” that was written by Hua Hsu and published in The Atlantic  from January/February 2009.   The gist of the article is about an America where in the next 20 or 30 years there will be no majority group, but rather everyone will be part of a minority and the implications of this phenomenon for the future of American culture.  It’s touches on all of the ideas associated with a post-racial, multicultural, multi-ethnic society.  

We split the article into three parts to make it more manageable for the students to digest and planned three lessons around the article.

In one lesson, I asked the students to think about culture and all of the components that go into culture.  Half the class was spent just listing all of the components on the board and talking about some differences between Chinese and American culture.  Aside from the usual culprits like food, language, clothing, music, religion, and art, the students also threw out some surprises like love, equality, rule of law, and the community vs. the individual.  However, some glaring omissions from this list included politics, race, gender, and sexual orientation.  In an American classroom, these things would be some of the first things to be offered up by the students.  We talked about some of the reasons for not including these items on the list and the general response was that Chinese people do not think about these ideas in the same way that Americans do.  Government and politics are considered very far away from the day-to-day life of most Chinese, so they do not discuss these issues.  Definitely makes it easier for a repressive regime to survive when the people feel it does not concern their daily lives.  As for race, gender, and  sexual orientation, these concepts also do not concern ordinary Chinese.  Gender does not manifest itself the same way as it does in America because there is a belief that the sexes are equal, whether it’s actually true or not, and thus does not define the culture the way it does in the U.S.  My long-standing hypothesis on sexual orientation just not entering people’s minds when looking at other people was confirmed in this discussion when one of my students said that Chinese people do not think about people being “homosexual”.  As for race, my students deny it even exists in China and they view it as a uniquely American problem.   Instead of categorizing people on the basis of their skin color, people make geographic distinctions in China, such as where you were born or where you live.

We spent the rest of the lessons talking about what makes some cultures stronger than others, how Chinese and American societies define their cultures, and America’s unique situation of being a country that will soon cease to have a dominant ethnic group.  Like the article does, I used hip-hop to demonstrate the idea of how something goes from being a part of a particular segment of society and enters the mainstream to ultimately become a global phenomenon.  We talked about Chinese hip-hop, which my students knew little about because most of it is underground like 隐藏, as discussed in this New York Times article from January 2009.  However, my students did know about Jay Chou (周杰伦) who is really a really popular Taiwanese pop singer who occasionally adds some rap to the end of his songs.  We talked a lot about the mainstream and my students informed me that the word “mainstream” is a negative word in China because it is associated with things that are boring or come from the government, so people prefer to be ‘anti-mainstream”.  Yet as they are telling me this fact, none of them can name any sort of underground bands that they have listened to recently.  

In Celia’s class, one of her students told her that Chinese people did not think about culture because it has been handed down to them by the government and there is no need to think about it.  This response was full and knowing capitulation, but was echoed by my students in their comments about how Chinese culture is not all that different and most people think and believe the same things. Imagine a classroom of American students all saying that they think the same way about American culture?

This morning we talked about how white people in America feel culturally bankrupt because they are lost in a country that is embracing multiculturalism.  At the end of the class, one of my students asked me how I would define my culture.  Without thinking, I started talking about being Jewish, educated, from the Northeast, American, and a gay man, thus my culture was created from many different communities that I considered myself a part of.  Right then and there I came out to my students, something I have wanted to do since day one, but refrained from doing because I thought it would undermine my authority in my classroom.  Boy was I wrong.  One student looked at me and asked what I meant by that last statement and I told her that I was “homosexual, not heterosexual” and the conversation moved on from there without any pause.  I wonder if they really understood what I said or if it was really no big deal to all of them.  I guess we shall see in the coming class sessions.  Regardless, it felt good to get it out there since that has been something I have wrestled with living here.  It’s hard spending time in a culture where people do not even guess that it’s a possibility and if you try telling them that you are gay, many times they have no idea what you are really talking about.  This situation in class may turn out to be the latter because they really do not get it and thus how could their American teacher actually be “a gay”.  Hopefully one of them understood it and it will go viral so they will all eventually know.

After spending a week and a half talking about American culture with my students, it all became worthwhile when after one of my students came up to me after class to ask me the definition of “white trash” and the website Stuff White People Like (stuffwhitepeoplelike.com) as both were used in the article.  She then told me that after reading this article she realized that American culture was really complex, more so than anything she has seen on television or in the movies. Not only did I learn a lot from my students, but knowing that I was able to get at least one student to think more deeply about something they had not thought about before means that this week I was a good teacher.

I’m sitting in a tiny coffee shop near the 体育西路 metro station and I can actually access my blog without going through the Yale VPN that I have been using all year because WordPress has been blocked by the mainland censors.  It’s funny that I can access my blog using the Chinese internet, but the New York Times this morning reported that YouTube has been blocked in China due to the posting of some pro-Tibet videos showcasing violence against the local population.  Ah, the inconsistencies of an authoritarian regime never cease to amaze me.

Last weekend I was in Anhui province for our Yale-China spring conference.  Anhui is a rural province located due east of Shanghai and it was my first time there.  We met to talk about teaching, to visit the school where four fellows are based, and spend time together before the fellowship ends in June.  We visitied Xiuning Zhongxue (休宁中学) and had a chance to sit with the students during English library hour, similar to what we did when we visited Yali Zhongxue in Changsha last semester.  However, there were noticeable differences between the students of the two schools.  In a group of twelve girls, every single one of them came from a family where both parents were farmers.  There was a definite difference in socio-economic status from the other parts of China I have lived and visited.  It was interesting to spend time in a part of China that is so rural and less developed than GZ or the other cities I have spent time in.  In addition to spending time at the conference, we took a trip to visit some UNESCO World Heritage villages that are signature examples of Anhui architecture, white, almost stucco-buildings with dark roofs.  I managed to squeeze a run in through the fields outside the school grounds.  A common local crop is rapeseed and the yellow flowers of the plant were in bloom.  It’s also known as youcaihua or 油菜花.  So there were fields of these yellow flowers as far as the eye could see.  I would post pictures, but my computer is temporarily down for the count, so I am borrowing this one from my friend, Carol who was also there.

The Fields of Rapeseed Flowers in Anhui

The Fields of Rapeseed Flowers in Anhui

One of the things I noticed as I was running through the fields was the amount of garbage that was on the side of the path, as well as in the stream running through the fields.  One possible explanation for this abundance of waste is that there is a lack of a developed waste removal system, so people just dump things wherever they can.  It definitely marred what was otherwise a beautiful run through these fields with water buffalo alongside the path the whole way.

We returned from Anhui late Sunday night and I have been teaching all week.  In my “Persuasive Rhetoric Through Current Events” class, I am doing a unit on satire and American humor.  On the first day of class, I asked my students about satire in China and they all yelled out “caonima” 草泥马 or the grass-mud horse I blogged about last week.  I was flustered at the mention of a taboo topic and played the ignorant foreigner as I asked my kids to explain it.  After they did, all I said was that the grass-mud horse was an excellent example of satire.  Once again I wondered if their mention of this topic was a test or the beginning of a genuine dialogue about satire in China.  Before I could explore that avenue further, the conversation moved on to different types of satire and talk about watching the Simpsons in class.  This morning I actually showed an episode of the Simpsons from Season 18 where Homer becomes a volunteer fireman after taking sleeping pills.  My students enjoyed it and were able to pick up on the main themes being satirized.  I am looking forward to when they have to write their own satirical skits in two weeks.

So here I am in China blogging without a VPN while millions of Chinese people are unable to access YouTube.  Sometimes censorship is so unfair.