Monday, November 23, 1998

My Childhood in China

Had it not been for the military adventurism of the Japanese government in the 1930's, I would have never heard of Changting(长丁). As it was, Changting, a small hamlet in the interior of Fujian province became the temporary home of the University of Amoy, and I was born there on June 4, 1938, in the year of the tiger. My parents, both graduates of the university majoring in marine biology, were on the faculty. The leadership of the university had anticipated that the port of Amoy (now called Xiamen, which means gate to summer) was of too much strategic importance to be overlooked by the encroaching Japanese military and wisely relocated the campus to the rural, mountainous region of no military importance. (Changting, by the way, is close to Jingangshan, where Mao and his fellow Communists held out some ten years earlier.)

Even though the United States will not have officially declared war with Japan until December 1941, China was very much at war with Japan by the time of my birth. (Chinese generally consider the provocation at Marco Polo Bridge outside Peking, now Beijing, on July 7, 1937 as the "official" beginning of the conflict with Japan. Some consider Japan's 1931 invasion of Manchuria to be the beginning.) Life in China under war conditions was hard. Even so, though I have no real recollection of my infancy, my mother's collection of photographs would indicate that I was the center of attention and suffered no obvious deprivation. While bald babies generally attracted less attention, I had the advantage of being the first born and being a professor's baby, I bathed in the attention of his students as well that of my parents. At that time in China, students spent a lot of their time at the homes of their teachers.

My earliest recollection of my childhood was the night my sister, Helen, was born almost 3.5 years later. Suddenly, there was great activity around the house, and seemingly for the first time, no one was paying any attention to me. I remember gorging on the table of goodies prepared for well wishers and volunteer helpers, and ended crying up a storm because of an excruciating stomach ache. As for my other sisters, Nancy was born after the War was over and Linda was born after we had arrived in the U.S.

We were fortunate to be born with both parents being university graduates, an extraordinarily rare occurrence in China those days. Because of this and because of their parental love and care, we received the best nutrition that could be obtained under the circumstances. I remember as a child having to take cod liver oil regularly, at least while the supply lasted. Later on, probably after the war was over, I remember drinking milk made from canned concentrate and drinking and liking "Ovaltine." The first time I drank milk reconstituted from powder, I thought it was much better than the canned stuff.

My parents went to great length in search of the balanced diet. Vividly etched in my mind were the occasions my father and his students armed with clubs would fan through neighborhoods stalking stray dogs. Once caught, the dogs would be used in laboratory experiments and then served on the family dinner table. My sister and I had no qualms eating dog meat. Meat was meat. My mother did a masterful job of preparing the dishes but she always felt bad over having to serve dog meat to her children.

Probably because Changting had no strategic value, we never faced actual Japanese soldiers. We didn't see any Chinese soldiers either. Changting was simply not worth fighting over. Japanese military forces were spreading pretty thin by the time they reached southern China and taking Changting would have worsened their plight.

We did go on the run a few times heading toward even more remote areas whenever rumors of imminent invasion became too loud to ignore. I remember riding sedan chairs carried by coolies, invariably throwing up in fume filled, antiquated buses, and even once falling out of a sampan into the shallow part of the river. Probably the most traumatic experience while "on the run," at least for my mother, was when I was almost electrocuted. As my mother likes to relate the story, one time we stopped at my parents' friend's residence that had electricity. That was a first for me. Being curious, I climbed on a stool to poke into an open socket. The electricity surged through my hands and I could not let go. In the panic and struggle, I kicked off the stool and my weight was more than the cord dangling from the ceiling could support and promptly snapped, thereby breaking the circuit and thus avoided a real tragedy.

Otherwise, my experience of the war consisted of frequent trips to the air raid shelter. The bloodiest encounter with the War that I can remember was, upon emerging from the air raid shelter, seeing a young man who’s top of the shoulder, shirt and all, was sliced away by bomb shrapnel leaving a flat and round red spot, about the size of a silver dollar.

Perhaps I was too young to know any better and was carefully sheltered from the grimmer aspects of living under siege, but I grew up during the war years happy and content. To play with, I had a tennis ball which, by the time I got it, was worn to the point of being a shiny black ball without any trace of the original felt cover. As the professor's son, I had access to the salamanders kept at the zoology department and used to take them for walks. (I don't recollect eating them, though to this day, salamanders are considered prized delicacies in China.) All in all, compared to most of the Chinese population at that time, my sister and I were very lucky. We didn't have to eat tree bark and I don't remember going really hungry. In short, we were not part of the hungry millions that parents (including mine later on) in the U.S. used to allude to when they are exhorting their children to finish eating the last bit of vegetables from their plates.

After Hiroshima and the Japanese surrender, we moved back to Amoy and life became quite different and traumatic for me. I was between 7 and 8 at the time. My father was one of the fortunate few selected to go the U.S. for further graduate studies, his expenses being paid out of the indemnity funds from Japan. After a false start leading to a nervous breakdown, his paper work eventually cleared and he left for University of Washington in Seattle and I was not to see him for almost four years. During this period, I had the misfortune of being branded a "han jian," a traitor to the ethnic Hans, the dominant ethnic group that make up the Chinese race. Even for an 8 year old, this was a serious charge and I became an outcast in school until my mother came to my rescue.

It came about in this way. After the War, a top national priority was to resume schooling for all the children as soon as possible. Most of the children in occupied China went without schooling during the war years. Consequently, when school began again, the classes contained children with a range of ages. Since I was ahead by two grades for my age, I was among the youngest in the class. Some of my classmates were as much as 5 to 7 years older than I was.

As one can imaging right after the turmoil of war, the availability of qualified teachers was limited. I had the misfortune of getting one of the marginally qualified teachers. In class he frequently resorted to teaching via sloganeering. That is, he would shout out a slogan and we would dutifully holler out the appropriate response. One time when he shouted, "Is Jiang Jie She (Chiang Kai Shek) the greatest leader?" Everyone duly responded with "yes," which of course was the expected answer. Alas, I wasn't paying attention and said "no!" It was strictly unintentional; I could not know enough to intend otherwise.

"Who said that," the teacher asked. "Gu Ping Shan, (my Chinese name) you are a han jian!" "Han jian, han jian," my classmates immediately chanted in unison. That unfortunate "nick name" stuck. I was relentlessly teased by my fellow students, whenever they saw me, or so it seemed at the time. I lost interest in going to school and my report card reflected this change.

When my mother found out about it, she was quite upset that a teacher could be so irresponsible and cruel. She arranged for me to transfer to another school, and I stayed behind to repeat fifth grade again. School was enjoyable once more and I completed the rest of my elementary school education without further incident. The biggest disappointment of my life up to leaving China was when a mistake was made in my name appearing in my grade school diploma. The diploma had to be sent back to the Education Ministry in Nanking for correction. That was June, 1949. The Nationalist government was on the verge of collapse and my family and I were about to leave China to rejoin my father in Seattle. Though I was to earn a number of diplomas later in life, I never have forgotten the disappointment of not getting this colorful and very official looking document that would have been my first.

When my father was selected to go abroad for further education after World War II, he was among a select and fortunate group. It was the dream of virtually every Chinese university graduate to go to the West, especially the U.S., for additional academic training. His dream delayed by the War was about to be realized. Although this meant being separated from his family for an extended period of time, it was a price he and others like him paid without hesitation. In China, this attitude still prevails today.

It took my father two tries to leave China. The first time he reached Shanghai, the port of embarkation, he couldn't pass the physical required to obtain the U.S. visa for some rather arbitrary reasons. His disappointment coupled with the helpless feeling of not being in control of one's life led to a nervous breakdown and severe illness. He ended up convalescing at the home of his younger brother and wife in Shanghai for sometime. When he recovered enough to return to Amoy, he was subdued and quiet. I remember that he brought back the biggest white rubber ball that I had ever seen up to then. He also brought me translations of Kipling's "Jungle Book" and "Emil and the Detective." The books he told me were gifts from my uncle in Shanghai, a modern metropolis where it was possible to get such balls and fascinating books.

After my father got to Seattle, he would include money in the letters he wrote to my mother. The U.S. currency kept us alive during a period of increasing instability. Thanks to runaway inflation, the Chinese currency had no value. The government kept adding zeros to the bills and then changing the standard from silver to gold to no avail. The people had lost complete confidence. My mother would change enough U.S. dollars for us to get by. We could even afford to go to movies and my first introduction to things American was C ration chocolates and Tarzan movies.

I cannot explain why certain childhood memories stay with us all our lives while others are forgotten. The above are some of the "highlights" that I can recall of my childhood in China.

Thursday, November 12, 1998

Bill Clinton, Pat Robertson and Fan Shidong: Their Impact on U.S.-China Relations

Based on a presentation given before the Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, November 9, 1998

I was first invited to speak at the Commonwealth Club over two years ago. The invitation came from Dr. Gloria Duffy, Chief Executive Officer of this organization, and it was to engage in a debate with Harry Wu about human rights conditions in China. Mr. Wu's response was that he would gladly speak about the subject but would not participate in any debate. Thus, that invitation came to naught.

Naturally I was disappointed, because this country has had a terribly distorted view of China causing a severe case of jaundice on the entire bilateral relationship. In my view, Mr. Wu along with certain members of Congress and the mainstream media have created an image of China that is coming straight from the funhouse mirror.

Henry Rowen, a former senior official in the Bush adminstration and now a senior fellow at Hoover Institution found that in the first half of the '90s, the mainstream media ran articles on China with a ratio of 12:1 on the negative side. In other words, for every positive or objective article on China, there were 12 criticizing and/or castigating China. Prof Rowen defined mainstream media as consisting of New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek.

With that kind of tilt in the press, it is almost impossible for the American public to develop a balanced view of China. Yet it is in our interest, as well in the interest of the entire world, that the U.S. and China remain engaged in a positive and rational manner. Thus, for the sake of my children and grandchildren, I was then and I am eager now to participate in forums where I have an opportunity to help clarify some issues. Just so there is absolutely no confusion, I want to say at the outset that I am an American, my children are Americans and my grandchildren are Americans. I am speaking from an American's perspective in the interest of all Americans.

Thanks to President Clinton's trip to China with the massive media in tow, to the sobering after effects of the Asian financial crisis, to the bankruptcy of the Russian economy, to Bosnia, Kosovo and most recently to the Israeli-Palestinian accord, bashing China is for now not a favorite pastime. I welcome this opportunity to talk about China during the interval of calm before the next storm. The seismic changes taking place in Washington stemming from the recent election may keep the storm clouds from gathering on China for a while, but I would hardly think that the bilateral relationship will always be sunny from here on.

Some of you may have noticed that the title of my talk emcompasses a curious collection of names from President Bill Clinton to Pat Robertson to Fan Shidong. No doubt, many of you are assuming that I selected this title to be titillating. Maybe so, but it is no more scandalous than to see Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi in the same political bed with Senator Jesse Helms lashing out at the Beijing regime for real or imagined offenses.

Aside from drawing up a title to attract an audience, the three gentlemen do have something in common. They have all made a historic trip across the Pacific, and have in my view some important things to say to China or about China, and if we listen--more importantly, if Congress will listen-- they will help put the bilateral relationship on a new track. Let me explain by first reviewing each person's trip, then I will attempt to pull it all together.

President Clinton's Historic Visit to China

First the easy one. When Bill Clinton decided to move his trip to China up to late June, he had to withstand a firestorm of criticisms ranging from his attempting to duck the Monica scandal--which if that was his intention, he didn't succeed-- to coddling with dictators. He also got unsolicited and malicious advice.

He was advised not to go near Tiananmen Square. Can you imagine the President on arrival in Beijing saying "Excuse me, I know that the Great Hall of the People is where you receive heads of state, but in my case please go ahead with the 21 gun salute without me?"

It was also suggested that Hillary Clinton wear white as a sign of mourning in memory of the students that died in June of 1989. If you remember the pomp and ceremony as the Clintons entered the Hall, you would realize her wearing white would've been unnoticed or if noticed, would have made her look mighty silly.

Instead, President Clinton became the first foreign head of state to address the Chinese people live, not once or twice but three times. First time at the Great Hall alongside President Jiang, second time at Beijing University in front of an audience of mainly students, both of these were televised to national audience, and third time on a radio talk show in Shanghai.

I believe as a result of this trip, Jiang and Clinton finally developed the rapport and mutual respect needed to maintain a dialog between two major heads of state. The Chinese people got a sense of the Western concept of democracy. Just as important, if not more so, President Clinton and his entourage including the media, may finally begin to realize that democracy, Western style, isn't the red hot issue among the younger generation in China that they may have presupposed.

Instead of fomenting dissent and espousing democracy, expected from the cradle of agitation that led to the 1989 Tiananmen protest, the student questioners at Beijing University addressing the President were pointedly more interested in knowing about U.S. attitudes and plans for the bilateral relationship. One student asked if U.S. has any human rights problems and what has been done about them. None showed any inclination to take up the U.S. point of view in the friendly debate about human rights and personal freedom.

What the students at Beijing University and later the people of Shanghai that participated in the radio talk demonstrated is that the people of China know a lot more about America than Americans know about China. This should be a strange conclusion considering that they are supposed to live in a closed society and we in an open society. Probably says something about the way our media covers China and about our interest in international relations (vs. domestic relations).

The Chinese respondents also showed that their concern about the future of China is just not the same as America's concern. President Clinton stressed the importance of individual freedom to the future of China and argued that China's long term stability will depend on the granting of personal freedom. The Chinese people politely disagreed. One of the students said, "I don't think the individual freedom and the collective freedom will contradict each other. For instance, in China, the prosperous development of the nation is actually the free choice of our people.... And I also think that only those who can really respect the freedom of others, they can really say that they understand what freedom means."

The last sentence is a pointed reminder to the President and the people of the U.S. that we Americans do not own the definition of freedom.

Of course it's hard for me to say whether the media have really learned anything from this trip and recognize that tremendous changes are taking place in China and whether they have yet to take off the blinders of pre-conceived notions and truly see what's going on.

For example, as a background piece, Dan Rather of CBS interviewed a former activist on Tiananmen who landed in prison for two years for his role. He is now a successful entrepreneur operating a number of book stores in Beijing. When asked about his thoughts on Tiananmen, he said that was the past, he would rather look forward to making a good life for himself and his live-in fiancee, also a Tiananman participant.

This probably was not the response Dan Rather had in mind. But it didn't keep him from this straight into the camera conclusion: "Isn't it terrible that China is suffering from lack of democracy." Rather is not the exception. Sam Donaldson strayed the farthest by reprising an exposé on organ sales that was shown on Primetime Live about 8 months earlier. In that program, Harry Wu help snare a young couple caught on TV for taking downpayments for kidney transplants.

Other than having the Shanghai Bund as the background, there was no new information given when Donaldson re-ran the Primetime piece. Questions raised after the first airing of the program included: What happened to the young Chinese couple, the Dai's, caught on video taking the advance deposit money for transplant reservation? Why weren't they arrested and prosecuted? Where did they go? According an article Harry Wu wrote for World Journal of ethnic Chinese press, he secretly let them go. Could that be true? Where did he get authority to take law into his hands? None were answered this time around.

Pat Robertson Meets Zhu Rongji

Pat Robertson went to China and met with Zhu Rongji almost exactly two months after Clinton's summit. Dr. Robertson is the Chairman of the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) and a founder of the Christian Coalition. He was invited to China to see for himself the practice of religion in China. This summit was initiated and arranged by the Committee of 100.

The Committee of 100 is an organization of Chinese Americans. The mission of the organization is to speak up on Chinese American issues in America and to promote an U.S.-China relationship based on the principle of "seeking common grounds while respecting differences." Some of the more prominent members include Architect I.M. Pei, Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien, and Governor Gary Locke.

In 1997, the Committee organized a group to Asia to meet with government leaders in Taipei, Hong Kong and Beijing. The purpose of the trip was to observe the return of Hong Kong to China and to discuss their concerns over the then existing tensions between the U.S. and China and between Taiwan and the mainland.

Just before this group arrived in Beijing in July 1997, Time magazine had reported on the vitriolic bashing of China from the religious right in the U.S. Sensitive to the power of the religious right in American politics, Liu Huaqiu, head of Foreign Affairs of the State Council, asked the visiting group for advice on how to best respond to the bitter attacks.

One member of the group, Dr. Richard Cheng, Chairman and C.E.O. of ECI Systems Engineering in Virginia Beach, who knows Pat Robertson personally, suggested that he could approach Robertson about a possible visit to China. This was warmly endorsed by others in the group. Thus, Cheng with the support of the Committee became the intermediary between Robertson's organization and the leaders in Beijing.

When he came back from China, Robertson said, "China's society has already made tremendous strides. The people have taken a great step towards freedom. China is in midst of building an economic miracle. Furthermore, the people of China are enjoying religious freedom to a degree far greater than has been described by the American media." Imagine that!

Robertson's remarks about China clearly put him on a collision course with many members of the religious right. When asked, he said people like Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council is hard to influence. "He does what he likes, but he does not speak for conservative Christians. I do," he said. "I don't believe he has ever been to China."

Robertson first went to China in 1979. Walking around Beijing's Summer Palace on this trip, he saw throngs of people relaxed and at play. He observed that there was no way that this could happen in a police state. "The change in China over the last 20 years is just breathtaking," he added.

Zhu told Robertson that according to official statistics, there are about 10 million Christians in China out of about 100 million that are registered with a religious affiliation. Buddhism was introduced into China nearly 2000 years ago. The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci brought Catholicism with him in 1602 while the Protestant faith was not introduced until 1807. The relatively short history of Christianity in China is Zhu's explanation for the relatively smaller following.

Robertson congratulated Zhu on China's economic achievements. He also pointed out that China will need more than ever the moral and spiritual values from religion as the standard of living increases. "Religion such as Christianity is not a threat to your government," Robertson went on to tell Zhu. "Religion was not a threat to the former Soviet Union. Their problem was not having a visionary leader like Deng Xiaoping."

The meeting lasted 75 minutes, well beyond the allotted time and kept Zhu's next batch of visitors waiting.

Robertson's entourage had made a number of requests upon their arrival in Beijing. After the meeting with Zhu, doors opened. Robertson and his delegation visited churches and talked to scholars and religious leaders of all the major faiths.

Dr. Robertson and his TV crew even got to interview Alan Yuan, an 84 year old pastor who spent 22 years in Chinese prisons. He simply walked into the hotel where they were staying. This interview was later broadcast on Christian Broadcast Network. Yuan was originally sentenced to life imprisonment for preaching and running a home church without registering with the government.

According to Robertson, people like Pastor Yuan from China's underground churches do not trust the government offices in control of religion because they are all communists. However, in his official meetings and conversations, he met many "fine religious leaders." "The line is beginning to blur and underground churches are beginning to register with the government," he said.

On the eve of his departure from Beijing, Robertson hosted a press conference. He said, "China compared to before is wide open. The live telecast of the exchanges between Jiang Zemin and President Clinton is a historic milestone. I am delighted to see a new era of warmth and cooperation in relations between the United States and China."

Robertson's parting observation was that while some members of Congress are sincere about their concerns on human rights, they have not been to China to see the progress there. Others, unfortunately, have turned China and U.S.-China relationship into hostages of domestic politics.

The successful outcome of this visit is, in no small part, due to Robertson's understanding of Chinese history and culture. Throughout his meeting with Zhu, he liberally sprinkled his conversation with references not only to Deng Xiaoping but Confucianism and even Sun Zi's "Art of War."

I wrote a commentary about Robertson's trip to China and drew an analogy with Matteo Ricci. The Jesuit priest and a Vatican emissary entered China toward the waning years of the Ming Dynasty. He studied Chinese classics, spoke fluent Chinese, taught the sons of influential families and incorporated Western knowledge into his lessons.

Ricci represented himself as a scholar rather than as a priest. He adapted Catholic rites so that they were easier to understand by the Chinese. He did not ask converts to renounce ancestor worship and he acknowledged the influence of Confucius. He successfully weathered the transition in rulers and served as a respected advisor to Kangxi, the first Qing emperor, in a capacity similar to his role at the preceding Ming court.

The decline of the influence of Catholicism in China began when the Pope disagreed with Ricci's approach. He specifically prohibited missionaries that followed Ricci from allowing converts to retain traditional Chinese practices. Completely turned off by this show of intolerance, the emperor then expelled the priests from China.

A Dissident Refutes Harry Wu

Now let me tell you about Fan Shidong, someone most of you have not heard of. Fan is a dissident who was arrrested in 1983 and spent the next 11 years in Chinese prisons. He was seen in frequent company of an American official from their Consulate in Shanghai and he was accused of selling secrets to the U.S.

He spent the last 8.5 years in a Xinjiang labor camp before he was released in 1994 and slipped into Hong Kong in 1995. Harry Wu heard of him and contacted him. Wu offered Fan money in exchange for his testimony before U.S. Congress. At the time--early in 1996, Wu was on a campaign to stop World Bank financing in Xinjiang

Wanting to build a case to halt World Bank investments in Xinjiang, China's eastern most autonomous region, Wu tracked down Fan and flew to Hong Kong to meet him. Wu needed someone like Fan, more recently released from a Xinjiang prison camp than himself, to authenticate his case before Congress. Fan turn him down even though he had shown up in Hong Kong penniless and certainly could have used the money.

Fan's principle was stronger than his financial need and he refused because he felt that World Bank financing of irrigation projects in Xinjiang could only ameliorate the harsh conditions of that region. It would be good for the civilians and good for prisoners also as it would facilitate their growing their own food to supplement the meager budget allocated by the government and not pocketed by corrupt officials.

Wu told him that World Bank's charter does not permit financing projects related to the prison camps and to the military. Since there were prison camps in Xinjiang and the camps were under the military's management, that should be sufficient grounds to bar the investments, Wu explained to Fan. Fan did not agree with this loose interpretation of the World Bank mandate.

Xinjiang laogai prisoners not having enough to eat and suffering from beatings were not noteworthy, because Americans don't want to hear about that, Wu told Fan. Laogai is an abbreviation for the part of China's prison system that stands for reform through labor. "No one can call himself a human rights activist, if he actually doesn't care a hoot about the lives of prisoners and their living conditions," Fan declares to his audience on his first visit to the Bay Area.

Fan's view is that even though prison conditions in today's China have improved compared to the 1980's, violation of the prisoners' human rights remains a problem. Wu has succeeded in diverting the world's attention to such issues as prison made goods, organ sales, World Bank financing, and planned parenthood and thus taken the pressure off the Chinese government to improve the treatment of prisoners.

Fan also found out that Wu is capable of making many doubtful statements. For example, in his Congressional testimony on November 5, 1997, Wu claimed that he was thrown in prison because of his family background with a banker for a father. "Even during Mao's darkest rule, during the cultural revolution, I didn't hear of anyone being sent to prison just for having the wrong family background," Fan says.

By equating China's laogai to the former Soviet's gulag under Stalin, Wu is equating China current regime with Stalin's reign of terror, Fan points out. When Harry Wu was in prison in the 1960's, approximately 10% of the laogai inmates were political prisoners. By the time, Fan was arrested, political prisoners make up only 1% of the prison population and today, Fan believes, political prisoners comprised of only about 0.1% of the inmates in China. No where, he feels, are there any indications of China's prison system being comparable to Stalinist days in Soviet Union.

In presenting his disagreements with Wu, Fan cites liberally from "New Ghosts, Old Ghosts," a recently released definitive study of China's prison system by James Seymour with co-author Richard Anderson. Fan wrote the forward to this book and gave Seymour his collection of data and materials on China's laogai. Wu had sought to buy the same collection from Fan during that four-hour long meeting in Hong Kong.

For example, Wu makes a big deal about prison made goods from China flooding the U.S. market. Last Christmas, he even paraded in front of K-Mart to exhort shoppers from buying imported goods from China. Seymour's analysis showed that even during the years when prison made goods had the biggest impact, it could account for no more than 0.2% of China's GDP. With the economic boom that has been taking place, prison made goods account for even less and in most cases just goes to supplement the underfed prisoners.

Dr. Seymour is a professor at Columbia and a well known human rights activist including being a member of the board of the New York based Human Rights in China. His reason for writing this book is his belief that criticism on China, in order to be effective, must come from higher moral grounds with a ring of validity derived from facts and truths.

"Everything Harry Wu does is aimed towards destroying the U.S. China relationship," Fan says, "And I am in favor of strengthening the U.S. China relationship." Hadn't been for the moderating influence of America, his own conviction as an anti-revolutionary would have meant execution, Fan observes.

Fan and his wife came to the U.S. as UN refugees in 1997 now lives in the Seattle area. He works in a grocery store and spends his spare time studying and writing about China's prison system. Fan says that he feels he has an obligation to help improve the prison conditions by persuading the Chinese government to take necessary rectification steps. The government bears responsibility for the dismal conditions, but they are also the body most able to correct the problems, he concludes.

In late June this year, Fan wrote an extensive piece entitled, "Shattering Harry Wu's Western Funhouse Mirror," which appeared in Sing Tao Daily. A translated version of this article is posted on the web page,

Seeing China Clearly

So what can we conclude from these three disparate transpacific sojourns? First of all, I need to assume that you are interested in a sound bilateral relations between the U.S. and China; in constructive engagement where differences can be aired objectively; in supporting criticisms but not demonizing China for the sake of domestic politics; and lastly but not least, you recognize that there is no profit in making China an enemy of the United States.

I believe the three gentlemen have revealed a China far different from how it has been portrayed by the mainstream media, and different from the perception of the general public in America. The next time you read about China from the media, be sure to distinguish between a pundit and a journalist. A pundit opines, he/she doesn't have to deal with facts. A journalist, at least, has to try to be objective, fair and provide balance. The New York Times is a prime example. Reading their editorials on China, one would have to conclude that those columnists are oblivious to the despatches from even their own reporters based in China.

The next time the US-China relationship comes under Washington scrutiny and Congressional debate, I urge you, the American public to listen carefully and ask them some questions. To start with: Have the critics been to China? What axes are they grinding if any? Hopefully with increasing exposure of people of integrity that can bear reliable witness to the real situation in China, we will see a decrease in people of questionable conduct, ethics and veracity appearing as the only witnesses before Congress.
1 Henry Rowen, "The Short March, China's Road to Democracy," The National Interest, Fall, 1996, p67
2 See for example a discussion in "U.S. Media Coverage of China," National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Inc., Policy Series Report No. 14, June 1998
3 Originally aired on October 15, 1997 by ABC.
4 Wu's article appeared in the Sunday magazine section of World Journal entitled "Xuexing Shiye" (Bloody Enterprise), early 1998
5 For more information on this organization, visit their website at
6 "Pat Robertson -- A Modern Day 'Matteo Ricci' Fosters Ties Between Religious Right and China," Pacific News Service commentary, October 12, 1998
7 See for example, A. A. Quong, "A Quiet Dissident from China Sees Hope for Reform in Prison Labor Camps," Pacific News Service commentary, October 8, 1998. Other description of Fan's visit to Stanford and U.C. Berkeley appeared in October 18, 1998 issue of San Francisco Examiner and November 12, 1998 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review.
8 "New Ghosts, Old Ghosts," M.E. Sharpe, $39.95, was published early in 1998 and most recently reviewed in November 9, 1998 issue of Wall Street Journal. Earlier reviews of this book had appeared in South China Morning Post and Far Eastern Economic Review. All the reviewers agree that the conclusions of this book "strike at the credibility of Harry Wu."

Monday, October 12, 1998

Pat Robertson -- A Modern Day "Matteo Ricci" Fosters Ties Between Religious Right and China

Editor's Note: America's "religious right" has long been home to the harshest critics of China -- until Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, visited China late this summer and met with Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing. The visit and the "summit" may do more to improve U.S.-China ties than President Clinton's earlier trip. PNS commentator George Koo recently interviewed Robertson about the trip. Koo is an independent business consultant, former Chairman of Silicon Valley based Asian American Manufacturers Association, a Human Relations Commissioner of Mountain View, Ca. and a member of Committee of 100, a national organization of prominent Chinese Americans.

Two months after President Clinton's trip to China, a different sort of summit took place in Beijing. Dr. Pat Robertson, Chairman of the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) and a founder of the Christian Coalition, accepted an invitation to visit China and meet with China's Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing.

The purpose of Robertson's trip was to bear eyewitness to the practice of religion in China. The outcome could contribute more concretely toward a positive U.S.-China relationship than even the President's earlier high profile tour.

"China's society has already made tremendous strides," Robertson said in an interview with this writer. "China is in the midst of building an economic miracle. Furthermore, the people of China are enjoying religious freedom to a degree far greater than has been described by the American media."

Robertson's remarks about China clearly put him on a collision course with many members of the religious right -- a terminology Robertson dislikes. When asked, he said people like Gary Baur, head of the Family Research Council, are hard to influence. "He does what he likes, but he does not speak for conservative Christians. I do," Roberston said. "I don't believe he has ever been to China."

Roberston himself first went to China in 1979. He called the change in China between then and now "breathtaking."

The seeds of Roberston's visit were planted a year earlier when a group of prominent Chinese Americans belonging to the New York-based Committee of 100 met with government leaders in Taipei, Hong Kong and Beijing. Time Magazine had just published a special report on China bashing by America's religious right. Recognizing its power, Liu Huaqui, head of China's Foreign Affairs of the State Council, asked the Committee members how best China could respond.

The Committee of 100 has consistently supported constructive relations between the U.S. and China based on common interests as well as respect for differences. Development of such relations, the Committee believes, depends on government officials and leaders with insight and understanding.

In a private caucus, Committee members noted that most of the outspoken personalities of the religious right have not been to China. Dr. Richard Cheng, Chairman and C.E.O. of ECI Systems Engineering in Virginia Beach, suggested that he could approach Roberston about a possible visit to China. The idea was warmly endorsed by the group. Cheng became the intermediary between Roberston's organization and the leaders in Beijing.

Zhu began his meeting with Robertson by reviewing the status of religion in China where, out of a population of 1.2 billion, roughly 100 million are followers of some religious faith. Christianity's relatively small following, Zhu told Robertson diplomatically, reflected its relatively short history in China -- dating back to 1602 when Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci brought Catholicism to China.

Zhu further noted that throughout China's history, many religions and sects had a turn of being in favor. Even those out of favor were tolerated. Since the founding of the People's Republic, laws were put in place to protect the freedom of religious practices.

Robertson congratulated Zhu on China's economic achievement and warned that China will need more than ever the moral and spiritual values from religion as the standard of living increases. "Materialism of a booming economy without counterbalancing religious values is dangerous to the society, as can be seen in the United States," he told Zhu.

The meeting lasted 75 minutes -- well beyond the appointed time -- and opened the door for Roberston and his delegation to visit churches and talk to scholars and religious leaders of all faiths. Some -- like Alan Yuan, an 84 year old pastor who spent 22 years in Chinese prisons for preaching and running a home church without registering with the government -- came from China's so called underground churches. Yuan's story subsequently aired over Robertson's CBN.

Robertson also met with senior officials in charge of flood relief in China and agreed to ship 8 tons of medicine to China. He cemented ties with the Ministry of Information Industries which is now co-producing TV programs for telecast in China. His Global Business Development Network -- which has operations in over 90 countries -- is helping Chinese organizations design web pages and translating western web pages into Chinese. "We have also designed a Chinese search engine called 'zhaodaole,' and we are hosting a 'Yahoo' kind of portal on the Chinese internet," Roberston said.

The successful outcome of Roberston's visit is, in no small part, due to his understanding of Chinese history and culture. Throughout his meeting with Zhu, he liberally sprinkled his conversation with references not only to Deng Xiaoping but Confucianism and even Sun Zi's "Art of War."

In a way, Robertson followed the path blazed by Matteo Ricci who represented himself as a scholar rather than as a priest. He adapted Catholic rites so that they were easier to understand by the Chinese. He did not ask converts to renounce ancestor worship and he paid homage to the influence of Confucius.

The decline of the influence of Catholicism in China began when the Pope disagreed with Ricci's approach. He specifically prohibited missionaries from allowing converts to retain traditional Chinese practices. In disgust, China's emperor then proceeded to expel the priests showing such intolerance.

Wednesday, August 5, 1998

Breaking Harry Wu's Funhouse Mirror, by Fan Shidong

Fan Shidong is a Chinese dissident from Shanghai arrested and sent to prison for talking to American officials in 1983 and released in 1994. He went to Hong Kong after his release and is now living in the Seattle area. He wrote a series of 6 articles which was published in the Sing Tao Daily from June 24 to 29, 1998 and spoke at Berkeley and Stanford as a visiting scholar. Professor Norm Matloff and I translated his article as below.

The Laogai Debate as Relates to Deng Xiaoping and Zhu Rongji

In his most recent meeting with the Voice of America reporters, Harry Wu made an interesting comment. He said, "Our difference with James Seymour et al lies in the following. Seymour only refers to those prison inmates that have been sentenced by the Chinese courts. We count as inmates not only those sentenced but also the dependents in prison camps, those forced to remain and work at those camps and juvenile delinquents. Some have served their term but is forced to remain with the prison team and still deprived of their personal freedom."

Wu's comment raises some questions. What does he mean by personal freedom and by what standard? Everybody knows that a long period in mainland China, all manners of control were imposed. Not just on prison inmates, but during the cultural revolution, the movement of all sorts of people were restricted. No one can leave their place of residence or work place without notifying and getting permission. It was not just those in stockades that were without freedom, even ordinary citizens were subjected to layers of government control.

During the cultural revolution tens of thousands of students were sent to the countryside without any choice; they were no different from those forced to stay and work at the prison farms after release. Everybody's individual freedom were taken away to varying degrees. Hundreds of million Chinese, the majority of the population, suffered from loss of freedom. By Wu's standard, nearly everybody in China would qualify as being a laogai inmate. Zhu Rongji in cadre school, Deng Xiaoping under house arrest would qualify as those deserving salute by Wu's Laogai Research Foundation.

Maybe it's not consider an exaggeration to add the years of forced service at the prison camp on top of three years of prison sentence and thus become a 19 year hero and laogai surviver. Why not? Everybody in China has the chance to declare having been a laogai surviver and claim the accolade of a hero.

Is there a limit to Laogai Economics?

During the debate between Seymour and Wu, one of the major issues is the contribution of laogai economics to the national GDP. Seymour said, "Some claims that without laogai, China's economy would collapse. There is no evidence to support such a statement." Seymours presents economic estimates that show output from laogai is but a tiny part of the national GDP. His calculations are based on incomplete data reported by the Chinese judicial authorities. Are these estimates reliable? I believe there is a high probability that they are overstated. Actual production from the prison system is likely much smaller than reported. While not completely believable, the estimates are at least better than those made up out of thin air.

Even today, filing falsify reports is still common place because it is not considered a crime. The central government and the Beijing municipal government frequently resorts to falsified data to lie and the people also resorts to false data to lie to the governement. This is a prevailing condition in China. Even so, there are not many that go to such extremes as turning three years in a prison camp into 19 years of laogai residency.

There are three main reasons why the data from China's prison authority are exaggerated or in error. (1) Towards the end 1980's, the government begin an incentive award system whereby for prisons that meet their production targets, the prison guards and administrators are entitled to share part of the profits as reward. About 10 to 30% of the profit is allocated as bonus. Therefore, the extent of overreporting of their production value and profit directly affect the bonus pool for the management of each prison.

Second, most of the production from prisons are not subject to tax or very little tax. The value reported to the tax authorities is frequently different from the value reported to the central judicial authorities. Both authorities tolerate this practice. The central judicial authorities want to boast about their achievements and the tax authorities have no desire to offend the judiciary.

Thirdly, the promotion of officials within the judiciary is the same as other departments. Namely by their work related performance. Hence another motivation to overreport. These reports are consolidated and report up the line. No one is particularly intersted in verifying those numbers reported. A direct consequence is the further infringement of the prisoners' basic human rights.

A numercial example would clarify matters. Suppose a laogai team earned an actual profit of ¥100,000 but was reported as having a profit of ¥200,000. If the prison authorities are entitled to a bonus of 20% of the profit, they will keep ¥40,000 or double the amount they are entitled based on actual profit. In effect they kept 40%. Part of the remainder is allocated as working capital and for management fees and other expenses. Whatever is leftover is then the budget for the prisoners meals. Since most of the other expenses are more or less fixed, the additional bonus payment comes directly out of the mouths of the prisoners.

Since the local prison authorities have other ways to increase their take at the expense of the prisoners, the meal budget of most prisons are only about 1/3 of the standard set by the central judiciary authorities. Virtually all of China's prisons suffer from this hidden deprivation and injustice. Thus the actual living standards of prisoners in China is lower than that set by the Judicial Ministry, and lower than international standards. In some prisons, the prisoners suffer from long term under-nourishment and must depend on supplement from relatives.

Therefore, the data from prison authorities can only be overblown. This tendency is exactly opposite to those profit making enterprises motivated to underreport revenue and reduce tax liability.

"China's economy can not do without the laogai's economy," seems to be Harry Wu's mantra. He is saying that China's laogai is an essential and basic part of its national economy. Trading with China is to help China's laogai economy and therefore become accomplices in oppressing China's political prisoners.

It's obvious Wu has powerful backers, but who are they?

These assessments did not originate from Wu. Just like Fiedler, Wu is just a low ranking worker bee and lack the qualifications and authority to make comments on political matters that rightfully belonging to those in power.

There are times when Wu gets so carried away that even President Clinton is dismissed. One source of his arrogance is his powerful supporters in the U.S. Congress. But this did not keep Seymour to singlehandedly said directly to the experts and scholars in Hong Kong, "I believe there are many in Senate and House that are irresponsible and make statements that are not factual. This approach will not help in improving human rights in China. Not only the Chinese authorities find justifiable grounds to ignore the criticism but can be used to argue that China has no human rights problems." Therefore, he emphasized that when criticizing China's human rights problems, "exaggeration is counter effective." (South China Morning Post, 3/12/98) Seymour did not hold back. In his book, he said, "Once World Bank invested in Xinjiang, the Bank became the whipping boy for Wu and (Senator) Helms."

Mr. Helms is the current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; what is his relationship with Harry Wu? Is he Wu's patron? No way of knowing. But some things are easy to see, Wu is not incompetent. I believe even the Chinese public security would not deny that Wu possess exceptional abilities exceeding most cadres and dissidents. He has a quick mind and boldness, and is a highly productive doer. Whether his motivation to make trouble for China has to do with revenge, or to make a living, or to achieve fame with profit, or all of the above, is a question we can defer momentarily. Whether he is successful in making trouble also can be deferred for now. What's evident is that his tooth for tooth mission rely on underhanded, in the gutter approach, the same treatment he suffered under the Mao Communist regime.

There are many former laogai immates who suffered in the hands Chinese authorities that may have initially applauded Wu's action as striking a blow on all their behalf. I too had an initially favorable impression of Wu thinking that after coming to America he is still concerned about the suffering of prisoners in China. Because Wu can do such good deeds, it is small wonder that American politicians like him and pat him on the shoulder. However, when assessing Wu, they are careful not to go overboard. "Courageous" and "capable" type of praise is what bosses customarily give to their workers. Has anyone praise him for being sincere, honest, trustworthy, gentlemanly, not being a liar, upright character, etc.? Who would consider someone that cannot speak truthfully as a trustworthy friend or as honored person worthy of respect? At the same time, Wu would not let them onto his secrets or let them see his basis. He is realistic and knows full well that they do not trust him.

Seymour is, therefore, quite proper in including Wu's Washington supporters when he criticizes Wu. Sure, Wu is not factual, but the world is full of liars. Wu's exaggerations are not subtle, anyone with slightest analysis can see the flaws and inconsistencies. For anyone of average intellect to buy-in is clear indication of other political agenda or intentions. Therefore, Wu should not be recipient of all the blame.

As the smoke clears from Wu's debate with Seymour, Wu's falsehood and Laogai Research Foundation's basis for deception are exposed. Perhaps many members of Congress in both Houses choose to believe the falsehoods and innuendos because of the need to influence American policy towards China from a particular historical perspective, reflecting the U.S. mainstream's distrust and doubt toward China during this period of transition and reform. But then the exchange of visits between Presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton marks the conclusion of twenty years of uneasy U.S.-China relationship and the beginning of new chapter of history. In this new era, the bilateral relationship will be increasingly stable and friendly, and witness increasing exchanges and cooperation. Thus, mutual doubt and distrust will gradually decrease.

Clinton recently again emphasized, "Isolation of China will not work." and "Engagement with China is the best way to promote our interest." If Wu and his laogai tales are nurtured by Uncle Sam's previous doubt and suspicions. Then to dispel these doubts now would require someone with impeccable reputation and position. Thus the way is opened for Seymour and his co-author.

We believe, even as US-China relation continues to improve and grow closer, criticism and promotion of human rights in China will remain a part of the U.S. policy towards China. We hope that the criticism will be based on facts and reality. Wu's false accusations should not serve as basis for U.S. criticism. Only criticism based on actual reality will be valid, effective and powerful.

Who is Wu helping and making trouble for?

Even though Wu's recent acts of deception have been effective in attracting mainstream media and public's attention, such acts are not helpful to the West toward understanding and evaluating the real situation about China's prison system and prisoner's human rights. The U.S. government also cannot use false accusations to ask China to fess up and thus apply pressure for reform. The Chinese government is not open and frank about many of their human rights problems. They won't even admit some real deficiencies much less admit to Wu's fabrications. Thus Wu not only has not made trouble for China, he also has not help the U.S. cause.

Seymour views this from another perspective. He said, "We not only do not need to resort to gross exaggeration, the adaptation of such approach is counter effective." This statement is indeed profound. Seymour as an American is not only concerned with human rights in China but is even more concerned with the image and reputation of his own country. If Americans continue to remain quiet in face of Wu's exaggerations and distortions, eventually the reputation of the U.S. as the champion of democracy would be damaged. Seymour is reminding the American public to pay attention to its own image and draw a clear distinction between fact and fiction. Otherwise, the day will come when intellectuals that are guardians of American value and cultural will be challenged as to why they ignored the antics of Harry Wu. They will be asked whether America willingly sacrifices their basic integrity and values for certain political positioning. Seymour clearly hopes that such a tainted chapter can be avoided in America's history.

Some feel that by objecting to anyone criticizing China is to help China. Many who can't stand Wu's activity do not take action to expose him because of this concern. Many other so called human rights activists show support for Wu solely to reaffirm their own political position. This overlooks the advantage afforded to the Chinese government. If they are accused of human rights abuses based on fabrications with hostile motives, they are given the opening to take high moral grounds and ignore the criticism and even find justifications to deny any infringment of human rights.

Objectively speaking, Wu's approach of making mountains out of mole hills actually helps the Chinese government maintain the poor human rights record. Main reason is that by exaggerating China's human rights abuses by 100 fold, gradually people will realize that 99% of the acusations have no basis in fact. At that point the anger towards the actual 1% of real abuses will have dissipated and perhaps turn to sympathy for the Chinese government. Ironically Wu's action serves to confirm that a lot of the world's criticism of China's human rights are based on false premises.

One example is the grossly exaggerated head count of prisoners in China and the politics of laogai economics.

Another is the TV program made by Wu and BBC which claims that all the apparel on the stalls in an unidentified street in Xinjiang are made by military laogai there. The reality is that cloths prisoners have to wear are dependent on being sent to them by their family. Wu also said certain cemetery in Xinjiang contains only graves of prisoners. This of course was false which he himself later admitted.

Consequently, the people of the world will not easily accept any accusations of human rights abuses in China. They will say if Wu, who has done the most authoritative research on China's laogai, can only utter nonsense and lies, how can anyone have any authentic issues to raise? Therefore, Wu's western looking glass has actually helped China and make trouble for the U.S. government. In the end, it's the prisoners in China that are harmed, their human rights conditions will not experience any improvement.

China's prisoner human rights problem has been led to a blind alley

Even though China's National People's Congress has been making progress legislating laws, human rights abuses and conditions in China's prisons are still terrible. Prisoners do not have enough to eat, with excessive work load, and crime rate inside the prison is serious--most of which perpetuated by the prison guards. The brutal and tyrannical practices inside Chinese prison system truly defies accurate description. I am a personal witness to these lawless practices which can be found in Seymour's recent book. These prison conditions are not unknown to Harry Wu who spent over ten years in Tuanhe prison farm outside of Beijing. In his earlier books, "586" and "Bitter Winds," he accurately described the dismal conditions of the prison system. We felt he did this very well and accurately identified the essential violations. He was also successful in calling the world's attention to China's human rights problems in their prison system. However in recent years, his hot button is to stop Chinese made prison goods from exporting to the U.S., to investigate the sale of organs from Chinese prisoners and to disrupt the investment of World Bank in China's backward northwest region. These problems have no direct relevance to alleviating human rights abuses in China's prison; some even hurt the cause of human rights for Chinese prisoners.

U.S. laws forbid import of prison made goods, but export of prison made goods is not restricted by international regulations. The U.S. can rightfully ask China not to export such goods to the U.S. but has no basis to ask China to stop exporting to elsewhere in the world. From the prisoners' point of view, they need to work to eat. They are also looking for more profitable form of labor and certainly are not concerned with whether the goods are exported or not. If markets for prison made goods are taken away, the prisoners are still expected to work and may end up having to take on more arduous work and bear greater hardship. Thus from a long term view, even if the objective is to change the prison economics and stop export of prison made goods, the welfare of the prisoners needs to be dealt with first.

The benefit for sale of organs from executed prisoners is not just for Chinese officials but also for the many patients, so that complete stoppage is not necessarily the best solution. The answer is to ask the Chinese authorities to set the regulations requiring the advanced permission of the condemned prisoners and protection of the rights of the immediate relatives so as to unify the practice according to law and render the procedure public. This matter really impact very few, around some tens of prisoners each year so that this is not a crucial question affecting human rights in China. About the same number are murdered by prison guards each year. In the 11 years I was in prison, there were three who were beaten to death by the guards.

Just because China's northwest region holds laogai prison camps, Wu opposes World Bank financing of irrigation projects. This is not justified and can directly harm the welfare of the prisoners detained there. To eat, prisoners need to plant and need to water and need to use advanced quipment and technology to increase yield. Instead of reforming the prison system, Wu's protest will only deprive prisoners of potential benefits.

Wu's three emphasis in recent years as described above has directed the world's attention away from the real problems relating to survival and humane treatment. The confusion he causes leads to the world wide impression that the basic problems of surviving and prisoner treatment have been resolved. If Wu could really think about the tragic conditions of the prisoners and expend one-tenth of his foundation income for the direct benefit of the prisoners, I probably would still not feel the need to expose him. But he has strayed too far from work on behalf of China's human rights and even betrayed the Harry Wu of the '60s and '70s who also suffered from beatings and deprivations of a prisoner.

Why break Wu's smelly western looking glass?

Harry Wu's greatest accomplishment is no more than creating what Shanghai people disdainfully called a western looking glass, i.e., a funhouse mirror. In the hearts of oversea Chinese, the stench of this mirror has been obvious for a long time. So is it worth the effort to expose him? I think so and sooner the better.

If we don't destroy this funhouse mirror, sooner or later the Chinese Communist will. If we let them expose Wu, all the oversea dissidents and activists will lose face. If we do this ourselves, at least we can assure the world that not all are syncophants reflecting only whatever the West wants to hear.

If we don't destroy this funhouse mirror, the American will sooner or later realize the truth. For them to reject this funhouse mirror is for us Chinese to lose face. If we expose this fakery, at least we can send a message to the world that not all dissidents are bullshit artists. It's not that America lacks people like Harry Wu that bullshits with no concern for documentation. At least we can then say that we Chinese have no admiration for people of that sort, would not employ them much less give them honorary doctorate degrees.

Finally and most important of all, only after we break Wu's funhouse mirror can the West truly see and understand the actual conditions of Chinese prisons and human rights needs of the prisoners. The prison conditions are still harsh. Every minute, there will be many prisoners that will suffer from starvation, beatings and demeaning treatment. We need to work hard with not a minute to lose.

The dehumanizing treatment of prisoners will harden their hatred toward society and heighten their criminal tendencies. Upon release they are likely to commit greater crimes and thus increase the harm to society. This is a world wide problem. True prison reform must begin with basic respect for the human rights of the prisoner. We should take action not only for humanitarian reason but the future benefit of the society as a whole. This is particularly critical for China during its persent transitional period with high potential for instability and is the primary reason for my commentary.

Saturday, May 30, 1998

Why US-China Relation Matters to All Chinese Americans

This was a letter co-written with Henry Tang, Chairman of The Committee of 100, to Organization of Chinese Americans explaining that U.S. bilateral relations with China matter to all Chinese Americans. May 1998

When two major world powers, as in the case of the U.S. and China, make moves toward a cordial and constructive relationship, tension across the Pacific eases and the whole world can breath easier. Improved security and stability is undoubtedly the single most important desired outcome from this bilateral relationship. To Americans of Chinese ancestry living in the U.S., however, a positive bilateral relationship is even more special.

Virtually all Americans trace their ethnic roots to somewhere else in the world and is a source of pride and identification of one's being. Therefore it is natural that Chinese in America--all over the world, for that matter-- should be proud of a China that has shed the century-old label as the sick man of Asia, a China with the economic power to contribute to world stability, a China that can offer world competitive satellite launching service and getting ready to put their own astronauts in space--in other words, a China that has joined the world's center stage.

Loyalty of Americans is not suspect just because they take pride in the achievement of their country of origin. This presumption should also apply to Chinese Americans. Yet the recent indiscriminant bashing of all Chinese Americans over isolated cases of irregular campaign contribution of uncertain linkage would suggest that the assumption is not to be taken for granted. We Chinese Americans now face a choice: We can abide by the confines of the psychological detention camp being erected around us, reminiscent of the Joseph McCarthy's witch hunting era, or we can speak up.

OCA is speaking up with voter registration and promoting regular participation in the voting booth as a way to reassert our political rights. We endorse, support and applaud OCA's leadership in this endeavor. When certain interests in the U.S. turn China into a bogus demon to advance unrelated domestic political agenda or as a guise for race baiting, those sacred rights are being threatened. We need to promote a reality-based bilateral relations to overcome the demonizing and protect our civil and political rights.

Ever since the brutal quelling of the Tiananmen protest in June 1989, the western media has been relentlessly critical of China. Members of Congress along with other politicians and pundits of influential dailies have been doggedly one sided in their comments about China. These critics ignore the rapid rate of reform that is taking place in China. Consequently, most of the American general public have very little idea of the economic, social and political advances taking place inside China, since they have few alternative access to contrary information. Thus, the burden falls on the shoulder of Chinese Americans with biculture insight and knowledge to set the record straight.

Telling America about the progress and positive advances taking place in China will promote mutual understanding and thus contribute to building a durable and even-handed bilateral relationship. This is not the same as acting as advocates, apologists or unpaid lobbyists on behalf of the Beijing regime.

The Committee of 100 has been assuming the role of an intermediary explaining China to Washington and Washington to leaders of greater China. When we do so, we do not gloss over the real problems that exist in China. By being objective and carefully guarding our credibility, we have been able to use our access to leaders in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei to constructively criticize the defects and deficiencies and suggest remedies in the civil societies of greater China and thus remove obstacles to improving the bilateral relationship with the United States.

On the average Committee members are likely to be older than that of OCA and many are first generation immigrants. Their background enables them to separate the facts from the fiction bedeviling the bilateral relationship. We believe that the Committee's role is completely compatible with the interests of OCA. We encourage and invite OCA's support.

Friday, May 15, 1998

Is High Technology in Hong Kong's Future

I wrote this commentary for the May 1998 issue of Asian Venture Capital Journal two months after visiting Hong Kong as a guest of the new government after the handover.

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong as a guest of the government. The "theme" of my visit was to explore how Hong Kong will develop a high tech industry. While there, I paid particular attention to questions relating to government, capital and people. Thanks to the efficiency and hospitality of my hosts, I met over 60 individuals in the public and private sector to discuss this issue.

In recent action is any indication, the post-handover government is clearly eager to make sure that high technology is in Hong Kong's future. Shortly after my visit, Chief Executive C.H. Tung appointed Chang-lin Tien, former Chancellor of University of California at Berkeley, to chair his Commission on Innovation and Technology. At the same time, Executive Councilor Raymond Ch'ien led a 30-strong delegation from Hong Kong for match making meeting with high tech companies in Silicon Valley.

To be or not to be?
Dr. Ch'ien's view that Hong Kong will either join the "head table countries possessing advanced technology" or risk losing its strategic place of eminence is one shared by many that I spoke with. He argues that Hong Kong must and needs to install a second tier stock market to facilitate investments into high tech ventures. Of course, he understands that an NASDAQ type of stock market in Hong Kong is only part of the conditions necessary to nurture and grow high tech companies. The other major conditions have to do with availability of capital and techno-entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong is world renown as the place where fortunes are easily won by betting on real estate. Why risk money on high technology is a natural question. Before the handover, the Hong Kong government was actually constrained by the Joint Declaration, negotiated in 1984 between Beijing and London, which limited the amount of land that could be made available for development every year. Now no longer under such constraint, the Chief Executive has declared the government's intention to make more land and housing available. This is not only good news for people living in Hong Kong, but slowing down the rate of return on property investments should also enhance the appeal and help divert local capital toward high tech investments.

Besides availability of capital, Hong Kong will need projects worthy of investments. To turn ideas into projects that become funded ventures requires talented, trained and motivated people. Hong Kong has plenty of bright and talented people but are they properly trained and motivated about high technology? In the past, careers in property development and management, trading, banking and government service, all appeared more attractive to Hong Kong's Young people. Consequently, Hong Kong has seen a heavy tilt in the enrollment of their university students towards the soft sciences, e.g., real estate management or business administration.

Few wanted to embark on the steep slope of attaining a technical degree. Even those that made the climb often drifted toward more financially rewarding careers in investment backing and the like. The minority attracted to high tech careers find themselves ending up in places such as Silicon Valley where they can get proper training, funding and an opportunity to form a critical mass of fellow entrepreneurs needed for high tech ventures. There are a few exceptions to the rule in Hong Kong such as VTech. Typically there have not been funded by venture capital but by boot strapping from a modest initial investment and growing the business from retained earnings.

Mediocre in training and motivation
Hong Kong now has seven universities and colleges, all heavily subsidized by the government. There are now plenty of "seats" available for those Hong Kong residents that aspire to a higher education. Too many, some people in Hong Kong feel, because the students are not challenged and can muddle through. Akin to the problem plaguing the California K-12 educational system, the students are not forced to jump over a high bar. If they spend the required time in school, they graduate. Unfortunately this ease of entry and exit has led to a general body of college graduates that are mediocre in training and in motivation.

Opening enrollment, immigration
One solution is to open the universities to significant outside enrollment. Motivated students from mainland, Taiwan and elsewhere will raise the academic standard and benefit the entire student body. If there are sufficient inducements to remain in Hong Kong after graduation, these students will join the nucleus needed to start and develop high tech ventures. Though not be design, this is exactly how Silicon Valley came into being. As much as 50% of the undergraduate and graduate students majoring in technical disciplines attending Stanford and U.C. at Berkeley are either foreign students or first generation immigrants. They keep the standards high and many enter local workforce when they graduate.

In the same vein, Hong Kong needs to selectively loosen its immigration policy and facilitate an influx of skilled technical professionals to live and work in Hong Kong. The secret of Silicon Valley's success has been its diversity and continuous influx of immigrants from other parts of the world. Contrary to superficial first impression, these people create jobs--by starting companies--and not take away jobs from the local population.

Singapore and Taiwan's successes in developing their native high tech industry are not suitable for emulation by Hong Kong, because they possess comparative advantages that are absent in Hong Kong. Most notably, Singapore has an aggressive hands-on government with the world's highest per capita foreign reserve at its disposal. Taiwan enjoys the support of a stock market that is absolutely in love with high tech listings and a technical workforce peopled by significant reverse brain drain from the U.S.

However, Hong Kong has one major comparative advantage with the potential of outweighing all others: namely, the potential synergy when combined with the resources of Mainland China. These can solve the near term shortfall until Hong Kong starts to generate a significant crop of high tech workers and entrepreneurs. Offering access to China's huge market is also part of the advantage for Hong Kong. This can be used to attract high tech partners from the West that are seeking to build a successful base in China.

A dark cloud
A dark cloud looming in Hong Kong's future in the threat of its children becoming victimized by local politics. A movement is afoot to teach in mother tongue only. Mother tongue in Hong Kong means teaching in Cantonese. Such a more will surely consign Hong Kong's future generations to a dismal future. Even now, Hong Kong is accused of producing a crop of students fluent in neither English or Mandarin or written Chinese. In a contemplated move, some 100 elite schools with long traditions in Hong Kong, representing less than 20% of the total number of schools, will be allowed to continue teaching English as the second language. The rest will teach in Cantonese only. The response is predictable. Wealthy families will send their children to preparatory schools and private, high tuition, international schools. The rest of the population will be condemned to second class citizenship because of their illiteracy in English and Putonghua or Mandarin Chinese, the most important languages of commerce the the next century.

If mother tongue teaching in favor of Cantonese wins the ongoing debate, the future of Hong Kong will be dismal. Period. Cities such as Shanghai, Singapore, Manila and Taipei will all become serious contenders for the regional headquarters of multinational corporations. Dreams of developing a high tech industry will evaporate faster than a puddle under Hong Kong's noonday sun.

Government incentives
The Hong Kong government is telling the world that they are going to be friendly to high tech ventures in Hong Kong. They can't offer much of a tax break because their tax rate is already one of the lowest in the world. They can offer the Industry Technology Center with space at below market rates as incubator for ventures at their infancy; and a Science Park in the New Territories for more mature enterprises. Hopefully, they will be successful in changing the culture of Hong Kong and make the people of Hong Kong more aware of the importance of technology in their future. Through government's efforts, young people in Hong Kong can begin to see the glamour in pursuing high tech careers.

Many venture capital firms operating in Asia are based in Hong Kong even though they have not been actively locally. They have a vested interest in helping the government chart a course favorable to formation of ventures that will merit their consideration for investment. While only a few have already made their mark in technology ventures,more will surely find their way in. The venture investment firms in Hong Kong are in the best position to help this along and become the first to find and fund the professionally invested high tech ventures to be born in Hong Kong.

Monday, March 16, 1998

Human Rights in Today's China

In November 1993, the chief executive and the vice president of sales and marketing of a small Tennessee firm visited Shanghai on my advice to explore a business relationship with a local company. We arrived on a Saturday evening to have the next day free to acclimate before serious business meetings got underway. Next afternoon, I took them for a walk on the famous Shanghai Bund by the Huangpu River. Being a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, the walkway along the river was full of local people. Young couples wandered aimlessly or simply stood shoulder to shoulder to gaze across the river without really seeing the busy river traffic below. Children out with their parents ran around shouting, chasing after balls, or simply letting out their exuberance and delight. Senior folks sat in twos and threes watching the lively scene and sipping tea or eating a popsicle purchased from the many vendors stationed nearby.

While these American executives, visiting China for their first time, were soaking in the surrounding good cheer, I asked them if the scene before their eyes resembled the police state that has been depicted by the American media at home. They had to admit that what they saw did not fit with their preconceived notions about China.

In October 1996, another Chinese American and I were invited to Xian, the ancient capital of China, to present some lectures. Over a casual lunch with some local government officials in the presence of an official from Beijing, the conversation was informal and lighthearted. One of the senior officials reminisced about how he was successful in pursuading some of the student leaders to tone down their protest during the "June 4 movement"--Chinese euphemism for the Tiananmen protest. Thus their political activism did not lead to arrests though costing them chances for promising careers in government. Instead they became highly successful entrepreneurs, the official noted with a touch of paternal pride.

While sightseeing in the countryside, a funeral dirge wafted from the PA system of a nearby village. One of the accompanying young officials in our group said, "Hey, who died? This is the funeral music played whenever somebody important dies. May be it is for Lao Deng (meaning old Deng Xiaoping)." Another member of the group replied, "Probably not. Nowadays anybody can use that music, including anyone in the village." Sure enough, at the conclusion of the solemn piece, the village disc jockey said that he simply played it for enjoyment. The official who took the music to heart became the butt of some good-natured ribbing from his colleagues.

These were casual conversations that could not have taken place a few years ago. They served as barometers of how relaxed a place China has become. Americans with the opportunity to visit China invariably comes home saying they saw the vitality of a purposeful people but did not see or feel the presence of a police state. Sadly, not enough Americans can go and see for themselves and must depend on the words of pundits and politicians, many in perpetual pout and harshly critical of China ever since the Tiananmen protest in 1989.

My first visit to China was a personal visit with family members in 1974 when China was still tightly controlled by the now reviled Gang of Four. China then was drab and its people wore the same blue or white shirt or blouse. While the people were friendly, they were guarded in what they said and with each other. Old classmates and close friends from their youth did not socialize with each other except on the rare occasions as welcoming a returning classmate from America as was the case with my father-in-law.

When I started to advise American companies on doing business in China in 1978, China was just beginning to emerge from the sameness and drabness that I saw in 1974. There were no high speed expressways, only a few locally made "Shanghai" sedans, and no traffice jams, no fancy Hongkong-style restaurants, no 5-star hotels, no high class department stores with shelves of imported luxury goods, no McDonalds, and nobody wearing anything that could be described as plain much less fashionable. Thanks to its near double digit economic growth since China instituted reform in 1979, all of those things became common place. Twenty years ago, foreign visitors shopped in state designated "friendship stores" that were off limits to local people. Today those same friendship stores are fighting to survive against the proliferation of fancy department stores that are joint ventures with outside participation. Local citizens are no longer barred from friendship stores but prefer the high fashions of stores operated by owners from Hong Kong or Japan.

The one constant about China over the last twenty years is change. Nothing stays the same and the economic reform has been the driving force. While the economic change is the easiest to spot, the change has been accompanied by pervasive social and political changes. While the China bashers dwell on and are fixated by the images from the Tiananmen on June 4, 1989, China has moved on.

At the national level, the National People's Congress (NPC), used to be known as a rubber stamp of the Chinese Communist Party, has been taking more independent action and getting away with it. In April 1995 for the first time, an unprecedented one-third of the delegates rejected Jiang Chunyun for vice premier notwithstanding that he was Chairman Jiang Zemin's nomination. In the latest pro forma election of Li Peng as the president of the Congress, several hundred showed their displeasure by abstaining. In early 1997, NPC drafted and passed amendments to the criminal procedure code greatly liberalizing the provisions handling criminals. These procedures were passed despite opposition and displeasure from the Ministry of Public Security.

Henry Rowen, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and former official of the Bush administration, said in the 1996 Fall issue of National Interest, "The National People's Congress is rewriting the criminal laws to state that defendants shall not be presumed guilty, that they shall have lawyers, and that the police shall no longer be able to hold them without charge. Doubtless, for some time to come these new laws will often be observed in the breach, but their passage is an indicator of the growing demand for democratic procedure."

Locally, China has been holding elections in the countryside in recent years, some villages having started earlier than others. Most recent ones were observed by representatives from the Carter Center sent from the U.S. The essential point of these elections is not whether they meet Western standards --most probably they do not-- but that they are taking place. The eventual plan is to hold elections at the township and county level and perhaps continuing to even higher level. The countryside still represents 75% of China's population. By their learning the democractic process, China is taking an important step to having true political reform. Other nations with predominant rural populations that adopted elections hastily without an electorate properly trained about the process are only practicing sham democracy. A largely uneducated and ignorant population is easily manipulated by a crafty and corrupt few.

Most of these progressive developments in China have been under-reported in western media and over shadowed by the focus on human rights abuses as perceived by the West. For example, most of the American public do not know that China's Minister of Justice, Xiao Yang has publicly stated that China needs to govern all its affairs by the rule of law. He also admitted that China is not there yet. In the June 18, 1996 issue of China Daily, the quasi-official English daily of Beijing government, Xiao indicated that "the aim is to ensure over 80% of the villages, 80% of State-owned enterprises and 70% of other institutions conscientiously administer affairs by law by year 2000."

Upon hearing about Xiao's remarks, the most likely American reaction would be: If China recognizes the need for rule of law, why not 100% now? Such an American expectation typifies the American's lack of understanding of the complexities of today's China. Accompanying the economic reform has been a steady loosening of control by the central government. No longer can Beijing rule by edict and expect immediate compliance. On the other hand, the rise of regional control is uneven as is local commitment to rule of law. Some local courts are fair and professional while others are still not trained in the legal niceties and may be more partial to local parties independent of the merits of the dispute.

American impatience at China's pace of reform overlooks its own history. (+++) Compare to the U.S. experience on can argue that China has actually been lightening quick.

Impatience aside, China's priority on human rights also differs from that of the West. While the U.S. considers the rights of the individual sacred, China along with many other Asian nations prizes the stability of the entire society over the welfare of the individual. Recently, in Zhengzhou, a former head of public security, equivalent to the chief of police in the U.S., was executed for driving under the influence of alcohol and killing a 15 year old boy by hitting him and dragging him for a distance and then driving off without rendering assistance. No doubt this is a harsh sentence from the American perspective. Even worse, I am certain a similar incident in another locale would not likely end up with the same fate. However, visitors to China will agree that the roads congested with many inexperienced by reckless drivers could stand more law and order. If the execution has the desired sobering effect on the drivers of Zhengzhou, who's to say that the road kills avoided do not outweigh the hapless life of one?

China also looks at human rights at a more basic level including such rights as right to life, freedom from starvation, right to shelter and clothing, the right to an education, and right to employment and thus gain the means to support themselves. I contend that when individuals are deprived of these basic rights, and many in economically backward countries do suffer from such deprivation, they are not going to care about voting and having the freedom to express their opinion. With economic growth, the general population begin to enjoy a higher standard of living. When they have their basic human rights satisfied, then and only then do they start to look for more and demand more. They expect more alternatives and choices in lifestyle if not for themselves then for their children. The progressive liberalization that follows may not be part of the plans of the political leaders, but it has been inevitable.

However, U.S. critics insist on dwelling on the treatment of a handful of prominent dissidents, to the exclusion of objective evaluation of the total picture in China. A particular odious example has been the so-called human rights activist, Harry Wu, a man with a distinctly murky past, who has been making some of the most outlandish comments and outrageous statements about China, none of which could stand up to casual scrutiny. (For example, he claimed to have personally videotaped the removal of kidneys from prisoners in China's prison before these prisoners were led away to be executed. The adoring American interviewer did not think to ask Wu how he got invited to such a photo-op.)

Wu has been making a big deal about China's "laogai," a Chinese abbreviation for "labor through education." Based on his personal experiences in the 1960's when he was thrown in prison for stealing, he campaigns tirelessly in the West representing China's prison system as hell on earth. To my knowledge, he has never measured the heavenly index of the U.S. prison system for contrast. Yet the U.S. has 565 prisoners per 100,000 ranking first in the world and is more than five times the number China admits to be in their prisons. The failure of the American prison system is well known. Recidivism in the U.S. has remained over 40%, 50-70% of juvenile deliquents commit another crime within 12 months of release. The only response from government officials is to enact three strikes laws which will reduce recidivism by keeping more of the criminals in jail for longer stays and thus assure the building of new jails as the latest growth industry. China claims to have one of the lowest recidivism rate in the world at between 6-8%. Someone more objective than Wu is needed to make a determination whether America has something to learn from China's approach to reforming convicts.

Finally this year, the Clinton administration has decided to forego the futile annual attempt to censure China through the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Last year the effort ended in dismal failure when countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Japan declined to join the U.S. backed resolution fronted by Denmark. This year even Denmark has decided not to get into this act. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi promptly criticizes the move as one motivated by money at the expense of American values in human rights. She couldn't be more wrong. Western participation in China's economy has done more for improving China's human rights than all the carping and posturing about human rights abuses.

Apart from helping to raise the standard of living in China by investing in China, multinational corporations insist on clear guidelines that would protect their investments. Consequently, Beijing's drive for joint ventures with foreign companies has led to the formation of laws and regulations on foreign owned ventures. These laws are not perfect but represents a huge step in getting China accustomed to the benefits of rule of law. Similar economic pressures have also led to the formation of laws protecting intellectual property and subsequently the enforcement of such laws. The drive to put economic laws on the books spilled over to a host of new civil and criminal laws in China. In fact, China today has become the only country other than the U.S. where the courts will hear class action suits-- perhaps has China gone too far?

Joint ventures with western partners are also important stimuli for change. By having Americans working in China and giving some of the Chinese staff an oppportunity to receive training outside, the Chinese gained an opportunity to directly witness and appreciate American's egalitarian attitudes, concerns for the environment, views on equal opportunity, sense of fair play and other values. With daily contact, Americans in the joint ventures are in a strongest position to introduce American values by example --rather than by rhetoric-- and influence the thinking of the Chinese people.

On one occasion, while driving a group of visitors from China around the San Franisco area, I pulled into a rest area on the Interstate highway and told my guests the story of a homeless priest who took shelter there and acted as the unpaid caretaker/gardener of the rest stop. The state highway authority initially wanted to evict the homeless priest but was turned completely around by the vocal protests of the people in support of the priest. Now the authority wants to use this case as a model for beautification of other rest areas. Why did I stop to tell the story? Because I believe these anecdotal, see-for-themselves incidents are much more effective in promoting their understanding of America than the holier-than-thou lectures that people in Congress like to give. As long as there are cordial relations between the two countries, there are millions of opportunities for these show-and-tells.

I am of course not suggesting in the slightest that China is free from human rights problems but I do believe that China's problems will become increasingly similar to the problems in America. Economic boom has led to widening gap between haves and have nots. Consequently, there is now as many as 100 million migrant workers from the rural areas seeking work in the urban areas. They frequently sleep in hovels or in the open as do homeless in the U.S. With the threatened wholescale closing of inefficient state-owned enterprises, the prospects loom of a huge unemployed workforce clashing with the migrant workers. Unscrupulous outside investors have already taken advantage of the cheap labor and absence of regulations on labor protection to set up sweat shops that operate under inhumane conditions. With loosening of government control, drug addiction is also becoming a problem, a problem thought to have been eradicated when the communists took over.

Will familarity of China's human rights problem bring about sympathy instead of castigation? I don't have any idea, but it is well to bear in mind the observation made by Professor John Bryan Starr, author of a recent and highly readable book on Understanding China. He said, "In looking at conditions in another country, Americans often measure real conditions abroad against an idealized vision of conditions at home, and thus seem blind to violations of human rights in their own society at the same time that they ferret out evidence of violations elsewhere."
A version published in Harvard International Review, Summer 1998, page 68ff