Friday, January 25, 2008

Asian Shoppers Not Welcome at Hollister

The sales staff at the Hollister store located in the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in San Jose has been known to be rude to Asian shoppers.

According to a recent report in the World Journal, an ethnic newspaper, the store manager said to a Chinese couple that "We don't sell to people like you."

A team of local Chinese American activists could not believe this could be happening in Silicon Valley and went to the store to investigate. They overheard another salesman refusing to accept an Asian woman's check for merchandise she picked out. He gave "brand protection" as the reason for no sale.

Hollister stores are wholly owned subsidiary of Abercrombie & Fitch. The parent firm earned national notoriety a few years back for offering racist tee shirts depicting stereotypic images of Asians, before withdrawing them from sale in face of a storm of public opinion.

The Hollister website features buffed images of young male and female, black and white models called "dudes" and "bettys". Apparently Asians are not regarded as dudes and bettys, so why would any Asian want to shop there?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nanking, a Documentary Changing World Perception

Ted Leonsis’ documentary film, Nanking, was not among the recently announced list of nominees for Academy awards, but he and the film had already won appreciative reception from millions around the world. At least 20 million in China have already seen this film. In the U.S. favorable reception from first limited release has now encouraged more general release across the country.

He did this by presenting the history of the Japanese occupation of Nanking (now called Nanjing) in a particularly persuasive way on especially shocking crime against humanity that has been largely unknown outside of Asia.

Leonsis happened to read the obituary of Iris Chang and became curious about her best seller, “The Rape of Nanking.” The book led to his decision to tell the story on the silver screen.

In December 1937, Japanese Imperial forces laid siege and then occupied Nanking, at the time the capital of the Chinese republic. According to the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal conducted at the end of WWII, over the next six weeks of occupation, the troops slaughtered 200,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war and raped around 20,000 females from babies to elderly.

The film tells the story of atrocities from the eyes of a handful of Americans and Europeans that elected to stay in Nanking. They organized a safety zone to protect civilians fortunate enough to have reached them.

The film employed professional actors to narrate excerpts from the diaries and letters they left behind. These eyewitness accounts were intermixed with tearful interviews of actual Chinese survivors recalling the horror and pain along with detached recollections of elderly Japanese men that were once soldiers occupying Nanking.

Spliced between these oral histories were actual movies and stills taken by the organizers of the safety zone, a zone subsequently credited with saving some 250,000 lives. Fortunately, the priceless materials were smuggled out of China undetected by the Japanese soldiers.

Depiction of the more hideous acts of beheading, live burial and gang rape relied more on verbal descriptions than visual images, a barrage of which would have nauseated the audience. The overall effect proved to be such a moving experience that only a storefront mannequin could have remained dry eyed.

The widely acclaimed documentary has won many awards and received 4 star accolades from every major reviewer.

Most importantly, the film takes the Nanjing massacre debate out of the bilateral tug of war between the Chinese and the Japanese. Leonsis personally financed and initiated this project to tell this historical event from the third party’s vantage point.

The matter of fact treatment of the subject coming from white non-combatants will render the film hard for anyone to repudiate.

The documentary film was released in December 2007, just in time to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s siege and occupation of Nanking. The renovated Nanjing Massacre Museum also reopened in the same month.

Museum officials at the reopening ceremony indicated that their goal is to raise the world awareness of the museum so as to be on par with Auschwitz, Hiroshima and other world heritage memorials reminding humankind of the brutal consequences of war.

The Nanjing Massacre Museum is built on one of the killing grounds used by the Japanese Imperial troops. Visitors can see open trenches exposing random stacks of human remains.

Multi-colored leis of paper-folded cranes have been left by visiting Japanese school children as tokens of regret and respect. The accumulated leis showed that some schools make regular sojourns to this site. One can conclude that not all the people of Japan are blind to history.

Some still living members of the imperial troops have publicly expressed remorse and guilt over their conduct in Nanjing. To do so took great courage as they immediately became targets of hate mail and death threats from Japan’s right wing extremists.

One Japanese filmmaker claiming that the Nanking Massacre never happened is planning to introduce his rebuttal on screen. It will be interesting to see what “truths” he will unearth.

Japan’s Consul General from Shanghai has already visited the reopened museum. He complained to Chinese officials that the exhibits were overwhelmingly one sided and he expressed concerns that the exhibits will inflame emotions and disrupt peaceful development of relations between the peoples of the two countries.

By all indications, the current government of Japan has foresworn its military, aggressor past and is a government of peaceful intentions. Unfortunately, the government is also hobbled by its inability to openly seek reconciliation with the world.

The Nanking documentary will make it that much harder to ignore the past but perhaps will convince the Tokyo government to finally face history squarely.

Only by knowing the lessons of history, can humankind avoid repeating the error.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Chen Shui-bian’s Next Move

Now that Chen Shui-bian’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost Taiwan’s parliament election big time, what will be his next move? First to atone for the overwhelming defeat, he resigned his position as chairman of his political party.

Next, Taiwan is afloat with the rumor that he plans to fly to the Spratly Islands (南沙,Nansha meaning southern sand in Chinese)ostensibly to honor the military personnel based there for their vigilance—presumably against the attack of killer whales.

Typical of actions related to Chen, his office denied knowing anything about his plans to visit the troops, albeit boosting the morale of the military was something he was said to do regularly. Then the next day, they deny Chen having any plan to fly to Itu Aba Islet (太平屿, Tai Ping Islet) even though a runway is nearing completion on this fortified islet. (See how he points east while attacking west in earlier post, ">click here

“What is Chen’s next ao bu (奥步, Taiwanese for trickery move),” people of Taiwan are wondering? Given some of the more outlandish antics that have taken place in the past, I would like to venture a prediction.

Just before the March presidential election, Chen will fly toward Nansha and the plane will mysteriously disappear from the radar screen. This could create a great turmoil and confusion among the Taiwan electorate and cause one of two possible outcomes.

In the confusion, the DPP candidate Frank Hsieh scores a surprising upset victory by means too difficult to speculate, perhaps abetted by a hanging chad or two. At which point, Chen just as mysteriously reappears in triumph and regains the admiration of his hard core supporters even if at the askance of the rest of the population.

On the other hand, if Ma Ying-jeou still wins as he is heavily favored to do so before any shenanigans, then Chen pops up in Los Angeles with his new hukou (residence permit) in hand.

As predictions about Taiwan go, my version is relatively tame. There are even speculations floating around Taiwan on whether Chen is desperate enough to resort to assassination.

No, not aimed at Ma, because that would be too obvious. The more diabolical speculation is for Chen to have Hsieh taken out. After all, it is well known that the two do not get along. In a massively confused aftermath, Chen cancels the election and declares martial law and stays in power.

Too farfetched? Stranger things have happened that pass for politics in Taiwan.

Monday, January 21, 2008

America needs more Anson Burlingames

Anson Burlingame has a unique place in history. First he was an envoy from the U.S. to China. Then he became an envoy for China to America.

Periodic tension between Washington and Beijing suggests that we need more leaders like Anson Burlingame. He was a politician and Congressman from Massachusetts, whom President Abraham Lincoln appointed as his envoy to China in 1861. Burlingame was an excellent orator with a strong sense of right from wrong which showed in his highly visible anti-slavery stance.

Upon his arrival in China, he undertook side trips to various cities to get a better understanding of the country and although not a trained diplomat, he quickly became a leader of the diplomatic community in Beijing. He was outspoken in defense of the sovereignty of China and criticized foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. He became a trusted advisor to the Manchu imperial court and was befriended by Prince Kung, the power behind the throne.

He was interested in helping China modernize. To that end, he introduced an American geologist and also mining technology to help China develop her coal deposits. He was also in regular contact with another American then living in China, Frederick Townsend Ward. A soldier of fortune, Ward organized troops from Shanghai to fight the Tai Ping rebels. Ward’s battlefield successes led to his eventual appointment as a Chinese general by the imperial court. It was likely that Burlingame played an intermediary role. (click here)

When Burlingame was ready to return to the U.S., Prince Kung asked him to accept the appointment as High Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary representing the imperial court, in other words, to become an ambassador on behalf of China. He accepted and led a delegation from China to Washington D.C. where the historic Burlingame Treaty was signed on July 28, 1868. The gist of the treaty was to commit the U.S. to noninterference of China’s affairs and accord China the same peer stature and obligations as the western powers.

Burlingame then led the Chinese delegation to Europe where he was warmly received. He began treaty negotiations with Britain, France, Prussia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Russia. Tragically, he contracted pneumonia in St. Petersburg and died on February 23, 1870, after being ill for four days. He was not yet 50. Apparently, none of his other negotiations culminated in formal treaties except the one with the U.S. Ever since then, China has received a more even-handed and sometimes sympathetic treatment from the U.S. than from other western powers. Undoubtedly, this is a legacy of Burlingame’s unique role in history.

From knowing nothing about China to becoming a diplomat working on behalf China may seem remarkable, but China has this effect on many Americans that spend time in the country. While living in China, they come to appreciate Chinese culture, values and the daily lives of the people. Some come to love their experience and memories in China.

Henry Kissinger as Nixon’s secret envoy to China took a number of clandestine trips to Beijing to pave the way for Nixon’s historic meeting with Mao. In between meetings with Mao and Zhou Enlai, he was said to have spent many solitary hours visiting the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace. Since then, he has been a moderating influence on the U.S. side of the bilateral relations.

George H. Bush served as the minister in charge of the liaison office in Beijing before the normalization of diplomatic relations. After becoming President, his administration was marked by a lack of confrontation with Beijing.

Leonard Woodcock, appointed by Jimmy Carter, became the first ambassador to Beijing where mutual diplomatic recognition and normalization took place in January 1979. Subsequently, even in failing health, Woodcock was a vigorous advocate of China joining the WTO. Despite being the former leader of United Auto Workers, his position on China has been far more enlightened than his colleagues in organized labor.

As a matter of fact, virtually all of the ambassadors to China since Woodcock have become reasoned voices in favor of positive engagements and collaboration with China. There may be two possible exceptions. Winston Lord, who left Beijing just before the Tiananmen disturbance, saw that his vision to be the pivotal influence in turning China into a western style democracy was not to be. Now his acerbic comments about China seem to reflect his disenchantment.

James Lilley, Lord’s successor in Beijing, has also been less than empathetic with Beijing. In his case, his outlook may have been hardened by prior years of service in the CIA and a stint as Washington’s representative in Taiwan before rotating to Beijing. Probably, it did not help matters that he was the sitting ambassador having to deal with the fallout of the Tiananmen incident.

(While Donald Rumsfeld was still Secretary of Defense, Lilley spoke at a Pacific Council event in San Francisco. He overheard my conversation with a fellow attendee and was outraged when I described the neoconservatives in the Bush Administration as a bunch of “neoconpoops.” He was certainly clear where he stood on the Middle East conflict.)

Even a brief visit to China can open eyes if not the mind. Senator Chuck Schumer comes to mind. He had been a leading proponent of levying a 27.5% duty on goods made in China to penalize China for alleged currency manipulation. After a quick visit to Beijing, he actually toned down his rhetoric for a while, although the China effect wore off and he has rejoined the demonizing China camp.

Today, China can engage the world on her own and no longer needs a Burlingame to exercise diplomacy on their behalf. However, hostility rooted in ignorance and not understanding China still persists in Washington. In the interest of the public good, we should offer an annual “Burlingame” prize to the person who has contributed the most to promote mutual understanding between America and China.