Passport Photo Conspiracy Theory!

I’m currently in the process of applying for my work visa and it seems like every time I check my email, I have a message from someone in some department somewhere asking me to mail or email passport photos to them. This morning, I was informed that immediately upon my arrival back to Shanghai, I have to have a medical exam (no surprise there), and the hospital is requiring that I bring NINE passport photos with me! This is starting to get a little suspicious! I’ve applied for lots of student visas, tourist visas, residence permits, etc in the past and I’ve always thought it was weird how many passport photos everyone always seemed to be asking for. Seriously, what the hell are they doing with all these photos? I know I’m not the only one who turns over (seemingly) hundreds of photos to different Chinese agencies each year. There’s only one logical conclusion to be reached here…Chinese people are trading our passport photos like baseball cards. I’ve figured it out, I’m on to them. Every time someone requests more than one photo, it’s because they’re keeping the extras (they probably need at least one for records or whatever) to add to their own collection of carefully curated photos and/or to trade with friends. “Hey, Lao Zhang, I’ll trade you my hot blonde, the Saudi baby, AND the guy with the epic beard for your photo of the fat Korean guy with the mole.” I guarantee that hundreds of conversations like this take place every day across China in various visa processing offices. I imagine that there’s probably a point system for different photos, based on how rare they are or maybe based on how good/weird looking the people in the photos are. Photos of well known celebrities are probably the most prized ones, so I suspect whenever famous people try to apply for Chinese visas (especially NBA players), they get asked for dozens more photos than any normal person. However, they’re rich and have assistants, so it’s probably not as annoying for them. 


Welp, that mystery is solved. 


追风筝的人 - The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner has been my favorite book since the first time I read it in English. It’s a beautiful, touching story and the author, Khaled Hosseini has a gift with words and describing things that I really think is quite rare. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s the story of Amir, who grew up in Afghanistan before the Russian invasion and the close friendship he has with the son of the family servant. Eventually, the relationship sours because of some regrettable actions on the part of Amir. Amir and his father end up leaving Afghanistan for the US when the war finally starts. Years later, as an adult, Amir is contacted by an old family friend who is now living in Pakistan and is asked to come for a visit and told that “there is a way for him to become good again.” The book was made into a movie in 2007, but the movie is quite terrible. It seemed as if the director didn’t actually understand the book or only read the Cliff Notes version because the movie skipped over parts that were very integral to the story and important in explaining the relationships of the characters. 

Anyway, this post isn’t really meant to be a book review so much as it is about me bragging that I finally read this book in Chinese. I’ve had a Chinese copy of The Kite Runner for years, but could never commit myself to reading it. I would start, read a few pages, then go do something else and forget about it for a few months. It probably took me 4 years just to read the first 50 pages. For me, reading Chinese has always been somewhat tiring…it takes more concentration, I have to look words up, and it just didn’t seem as relaxing as reading in English. I think I’ve figured out what my problem is. Prior to this summer, when I would read things in Chinese, it was either for school or it was something that I thought I “should” read, ie, something maybe not that interesting, but full of useful knowledge. I had developed some kind of aversion to reading in Chinese because I regarded it as a chore. Once I got back into the story of The Kite Runner, it was like reading it in English – I couldn’t put it down. Hours would go by and I would find that I’d read 30, 40, or 50 pages in one sitting (I still read slower in Chinese), which was a far cry from previous attempts where I would read a page and think “wow! I deserve a break! Time for cat videos on youtube!” By the time I finished the book, I found that not only was my attention span for reading in Chinese much longer, but I was also reading faster and retaining more. I learned a lot of new vocabulary too. This isn’t the first full book I’ve read in Chinese, but it was the first time I actually enjoyed it. 

In the future I will not force myself to read things in Chinese because I should, but rather because I want to. I also think that it helped that the book had been originally written in English by someone with a western background and then translated into Chinese. The book didn’t contain any cultural references to ancient China or something else that would have been difficult to understand or hard to find in a dictionary. 

I have a copy of The Life of Pi by Yann Martel that I am no longer afraid of. I think when I finish that and get back to Shanghai, I will try to find Khaled Hosseini’s other books in Chinese too. 


Book Review – The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui


The Private Life of Chairman Mao was written by Li Zhisui who claims to have been Mao’s personal physician for 22 years, as well as one of Mao’s closest confidants. I say “claims” not because I doubt Dr. Li’s accounts, but because many other people do, so I suppose that possibility should be taken into consideration. Dr. Li had initially kept journals to record his time working with Mao, but destroyed them when he realized they might be used as evidence against him if discovered. Therefore, the book was written based mostly on his memories after he came to the US. Memories of course, are fallible. Many historical episodes were collaborated and backed up by other testimonies and other historians, but Dr. Li claims that his translator Tai Hung-Chao and editor Anne Thurston took liberties with the information that they added and subtracted. Since the book was published in 1994, Tai has revealed that the publisher went so far as to add sensationalized details that Dr. Li never included in order to sell more books, mostly regarding Mao’s sex life. As one would expect, many of Dr. Li’s co-workers have come forward to denounce the book and state that Dr. Li didn’t work for Mao as long as he claimed, that their relationship was not as close as he says it was and to say that many of the things he wrote were outright lies.  Knowing all of this, I chose to read the book assuming that Dr. Li’s intentions were good and that he meant to provide a historical account of his time with Mao, but that there could be some details that were remembered incorrectly. The stories concerning Mao’s sex life and other juicy details I took with a grain of salt. They’re not important anyway, other than to demonstrate that Mao didn’t practice what he preached, but that’s evident in a lot of other areas as well. The reason why I chose to assume that Dr. Li’s intentions with the book were good is because he included a lot of information that was not flattering to himself, things that he had done that he was ashamed of and showed a lack of courage. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it.

There were three things in particular that I really liked about this book. The first thing is that the book includes a map of Zhongnanhai from the relevant time period, a chart detailing the organization of the CCP, a chronology of events and a dictionary of characters and their biographies. Yeah, ok so that’s a small thing, but it sure did make it easier to keep track of people who are mentioned on page 50 and then don’t resurface again until page 500. I referenced the CCP organizational chart constantly because I kept forgetting what position everyone held. It’s the little things, people.

The second thing I liked about this book was the insight it provided into so many of the historical events I’ve learned about in various Chinese history classes. It’s one thing to read an article listing an order of events, but it’s a completely different thing to know the background information and what conversations were happening behind the scenes. It reveals a completely new side to events and the motives behind decisions that were made. Many other people I know who study China will examine a historical event from the context of politics, economics, etc etc to try and explain it, but frequently people forget that Mao and the others involved were people, which means that human logic, emotions, or the lack thereof should be accounted for as well. Sometimes people just do things because they’re hungry or angry or both and Mao was no exception.

The third thing I liked about this book was the leadership lessons that could be taken from it. I used to work in a government organization that shall remain unnamed that was basically the same as the upper levels of the CCP insofar as how much everyone sucked at being leaders. It was not a meritocracy, people were advanced based on ass kissing and sometimes to spite others. The people in charge more often than not let their personal problems affect their work and honesty would often get you in big trouble, even if you were right and it needed to be said. The decisions that were made never took into consideration the impact they would have on people at lower levels who had no freedom to speak their minds on the matter. It’s difficult to maintain your integrity and get ahead in an organization like that, as many of Dr. Li’s experiences show. He frequently did things he knew were wrong in order to save his own ass and even though my life was never at stake when I worked for the Department of Ruining People’s Lives and Sucking Up to Incompetent Leadership (that’s what I’ll call it), I can understand that feeling of having to chose between yourself and others. The impact of Mao’s decisions and the way he made them should be an example for anyone who manages people of how not to lead. If it were up to me, this book would be required reading for anyone who is going to be in charge of other people and have the ability to impact others’ quality of life.

The last thing I’m going to say is maybe somewhat inflammatory because I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority of people who think this. I’m not throwing this out there with the intent of starting an argument, it’s just the conclusion I’ve come to over time. A lot of people, most of the history teachers I’ve ever had included, think that Mao was a genius. A master at manipulating people and knowing exactly what to say and what to do at every moment in order to get them to do what he wanted. I completely disagree. I think that Mao was an arrogant, petty man with an unpredictable temper and maybe even sociopathic tendencies. I don’t believe that he was a genius, but I do think that he knew that fear controlled people and he knew how to manipulate people in order to make people fear him and be subservient to him. Manipulation isn’t genius. It’s cheap and lots of people do it all the time. If you ever read copies of any of his speeches you can see that what he says in the beginning and what he says at the end are often contradictory. According to Dr. Li, Mao was addicted to prescription drugs and a lot of what he said was influenced by barbiturates, among other drugs. He was easily swayed by the opinions of the brown nosing people around him, but he rarely took the advice of experts and preferred to rely on his own beliefs and superstitions even in the face of overwhelming evidence. To me, none of these actions seem like the behaviour of a genius. There. That’s my opinion on Mao.

My Crazy White Family in China – A Humbling Experience

Even though I’ve been in and out of China for the last 11 years and taking every opportunity I could to visit or stay for extended periods of time, my parents have always kind of had this idea that “the China thing was just a phase.” After my decision to take a job in Shanghai, my family must have realized that maybe I wasn’t kidding around this whole time and they finally decided to come visit me. Admittedly, I half agreed to it because I didn’t think they’d actually go through with it. If my dad had had his way, the trip never would have happened. My dad is a large man who doesn’t like loud noises, warm weather, airplanes, or crowds. You can already see how this was a bad idea. My mom on the other hand…it’s weird because even though I’ve known her my whole life, I’ve only known her as a mom and not as a person, if that makes sense, so it seemed odd to me her suddenly wanting to see the world and not do whatever it is that she does in the house all day. Her wanting to travel, much less go to Asia seemed so out of character, but I learned that she actually used to visit Europe quite frequently when she was in high school (wut?) and has always had a strong desire to see the world and know what’s out there, but work and family ended up taking up all of her time for the last few decades and it just never happened. I guess me and my youngest sister’s seemingly random wanderlust was inherited. 

My dad had done a lot of complaining and making of excuses in order to avoid this trip, but my mom, getting close to retirement and being able to taste the freedom, wasn’t about to let him ruin this. She went behind his back and applied for passports, applied for visas and bought plane tickets. In spite of his yelling and carrying on after learning of her covert activities, all she could do was giggle and say “he’ll get over it.” My father maintained that he would have the flu the day of the flight or that the customs agents would take one look at his passport photo and not let him into the country on the grounds of being too ugly. 

They started their trip in South Korea where my little sister is living and much to my father’s dismay, they allowed him into the country. I wasn’t in SK with them, but my sister provided me with frequent updates about how difficult our dad was being. He didn’t like Korean food, he thought Seoul was dirty, the subways were torture, etc. Hearing about it from my sister was all quite funny until I realized that in a couple of days, it would be my problem. Initially, I had hoped that I could get them to come to China first and then go on to Korea so as to avoid dealing with the inevitable disappointment that China was all the things my father hated about Korea times 10. I didn’t get my wish and when my parents finally arrived in Beijing, my dad’s nerves were already frayed from the stress of traveling and being surrounded by people he couldn’t understand. My mom was happily taking pictures of everything and pointedly ignoring my dad. My sister arrived with them and the first thing she said to me was “I’m not in charge anymore, this is your party and I’m staying out of it.” I knew I was in trouble. 

Up until my sister said that to me I had been thinking that perhaps we would take the subway to the hotel since it was quite far from the airport and they didn’t have much luggage. I decided maybe they weren’t ready for that and we took a taxi. Needless to say, my father basically went into shock over the fact that China was everything he hated about Korea times 10. I knew it was going to be a long 10 days. 

I had intentionally started the trip in Beijing because I KNEW my dad would positively hate it (they wanted to see the Great Wall). I don’t like Beijing even on it’s best day, but he had no hope. I wanted to rip off the band aid and then head south for Nanjing and Shanghai because I was pretty sure he would like those cities better.  If nothing else, I know my way around them and it would be less stressful for me. My dad struggled to not lose his temper with me. I had been trying to mentally prep myself for this trip for the previous few weeks. I knew that having them visit was going to test my patience because I’m used to being in China, my expat friends are used to it, they all speak Chinese and everyone can take care of themselves and no one needs things explained to them. That was not the case for my family and I really had to try to remind myself what it was like when I first got there and didn’t know anything. I tried to remember the patience with which other expats had answered my questions and how hard it was to understand people, but I only lasted about 30 minutes before my dad and I were yelling at each other over ordering food or some dumb thing like that. What I hadn’t counted on was that my dad didn’t think I knew what I was doing and he second guessed every thing I said and every decision I made. He argued with me about transportation choices, where we should go and when we should go there, what the food was, etc. It really pissed me off and I felt very insulted that my dad seemed to still view me as a dumb kid that needed help doing everything. I voiced my frustrations to a friend of mine who pointed out something that I didn’t have the clarity to realize at that time. My dad was probably very uncomfortable with the idea of me taking care of him instead of the other way around. It bothered him that he had to rely on me for literally everything. He couldn’t get a taxi, ask for directions, or order food without my help! Unlike my mom and my sister who were fine with this arrangement, my dad still wanted to feel like he could handle himself. Also, I bet part of his insecurities were borne of the fact that he has spent my ENTIRE LIFE playing tricks on me and trolling me at every turn. He was probably (rightfully) concerned that I would take advantage of the situation and take 31 years of revenge on him. I didn’t, but only because I can’t stand to be that predictable. I’ll get him…but it’ll be on a nice sunny day in his own home, when he’s least suspecting it. 

This realization made it easier for me to be patient with him, although we still had our share of heated debates over various matters. He calmed down significantly once we left Beijing and we all managed to have a good time. Both of my parents really enjoyed Shanghai. I didn’t know what to do with them there because usually when I go to Shanghai it’s just so I can eat Western food and go drinking with my friends. I’d actually never done any of the touristy stuff there. One of my friends recommended I take them on one of the city bus tours…the ones where you buy a ticket and you can get off and on at any stop you want, as many times as you want. I thought maybe my family would find that tiring, but that was actually their favorite thing from the whole trip. They got to see People’s Square, Yu Garden, Pu Dong, Shanghai old street, the Bund and a bunch of other places without hassling with taxis or anything like that. A few weeks later, my dad even admitted that Shanghai wasn’t so bad and after he forgot about the horrors of the plane ride, he might be tempted to go back and visit me again. I think maybe I won’t be home then. 

A Few More Chinese Learning Tools

I found this awesome radical chart to help explain the different meanings of all the radicals!  I have to admit that I have mostly slacked off on thoroughly and purposefully learning radicals.

I also found a really good family tree chart that shows the different names of each family member in Chinese.  That stuff is really complicated and unless I ever have a Chinese family (little hope of that at this point), I don’t know if I’ll ever actually figure it out.


Kind of unrelated, but I have a silly story about weird Chinese words for oddly specific relationships. I had a (rare) meeting with my advisor (in which he actually showed up) last semester and he had another one of his students meeting with him at the same time. The other student was a male who had been advised by the professor longer than I and who would graduate sooner than I would. My advisor informed me that he was my 师哥 (a word that means “older male student with the same advisor” in some contexts) and they wanted to know how to say that in English. So I told them “older male student with the same advisor” and my prof (who DOES NOT speak English, in spite of telling everyone that he does) insisted that I was wrong and that there was a word for it in English.  Obviously, I don’t know every word in the English language, but I am pretty sure that we don’t have a specific word for such a specific type of relationship…we just don’t emphasize relationships the way that they do, but alas, we argued about it anyway. I think I lost. Come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t have argued with my advisor so much and just let him think he was right about everything.

The last resource I’m going to mention…I won’t say recommend because I find the creator of the site highly annoying is Crazy Fresh Chinese. The site includes a ton of extremely annoying videos made by Bai Jie aka Jessica Beinecke who is loud, screechy and too much like a herd of Jack Russell Terriers for my taste, but the vocab she covers is interesting and useful…if you can stand her.

How to Keep Your Spouse Entertained in China?

So, now that I’ve completed graduate school I suppose it’s time to get a job and be an adult again. As it turns out, my husband didn’t really buy into my plan of being a trophy wife (he says the age difference isn’t enough for me to qualify) and pursue hobbies full-time.  Originally, my plan was to try and find a job somewhere on the US west coast, but it seems that it probably would have taken a very long time to find something suitable and neither of us thought it was a great idea for me to be unemployed for so long. Also, it seems that unless you’re an engineer, computer programmer, or some kind of tech person, finding a decent job on the west coast is very difficult. I found plenty of openings with job descriptions that seemed as if they were written for me, but I didn’t hear back from most of them and the two (yeah, TWO out of about FORTY) companies that did provide any kind of response provided vague emails in response to my applications and I have no idea why I wasn’t considered further for the positions.  Oh well.  At the end of the day, I ended up accepting a pretty solid offer from a very famous American company doing a job that sounds challenging, but rewarding and interesting.  The only problem with it is that it’s in Shanghai.  If I were single, I would have started my job hunt in Shanghai and not have felt any guilt about it, but how could I expect my husband to tolerate me being out of the country again for so long? We’ve been married for four years and between my schooling and his job, we’ve actually only lived together in the same place for one year. After long and thoughtful consideration, he informed me that he thought I should take the job in Shanghai because he couldn’t imagine a more perfect job for me if he tried and he didn’t want to be the reason I passed up such a great opportunity.  What a great guy, right?  It gets better.  A few more days pass and he announces that he’s going to quit his job and go to Shanghai with me because he can’t stand being apart anymore and because he’s realized that his job sucks.  This is fantastic news, but now I’m scared…what am I going to do with him in Shanghai?  Sure, you don’t really need to be able to speak Chinese to get by there, but I am going to be working long hours and will be out of town often. What’s he going to do with himself? I imagine him spiraling into a video game induced black hole.  He wants to get a job or possibly go to school there…there are some international programs, but he wants to do engineering and we can’t find any internationally accredited graduate programs in engineering for him. He has no interest in learning Chinese, so aside from teaching English, I’m not really sure what kind of job he’s going to get…I’m afraid he’s going to get bored and want a baby.

The other thing is…China is tough. I think that in order to survive there, China has to be viewed as a huge joke and you have to be in on the joke. Otherwise, how do people who are used to sanitation, things working the way they’re supposed to, safe food, etc, get by in a country like that? My husband and I actually met in Japan where we were both working for an extended time and he loved it there, but even in Japan foreigners can have “I hate Japan days” and not want to leave their homes.  My husband had his fair share of those and I’m worried that will translate into everyday or most days being an “I hate China day.” I suspect that China is much harder to handle than Japan is for most Americans.

Hopefully I’m worried for nothing and my husband will surprise me with his flexibility and sense of adventure. He has a tendency to do the exact opposite of what I think he’ll do, so I think for now I’m going to make sure he knows I think he won’t handle it well so that when he gets there, he will handle it well just to prove me wrong. I’ve also been having him listen to podcasts about life in China and Chinese culture so that it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. I’m trying to teach him some basic phrases, but he so far will only say “ching chang chong” and insist that he’s speaking Chinese to me and I should understand it. *face palm* Maybe someone out there has some good tips for helping a loved one adjust to life in another country? I would really love to hear any and all advice!

Reflections on Chinese Grad School

This is my cat being extremely unimpressed by me.

This is my cat being extremely unimpressed by me.

I made it!  I got my MA!  That thesis…what a pain in the ass!  I learned a lot from the process, last but not least, that I am not PhD material.  It’s been about five weeks since I graduated and I’ve been back in the US, traveling, visiting family, spending quality time with my cat (she’s sick of me already), and letting my lungs recover.  I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts.

First, for anyone who read my post about having a Chinese advisor…a (not so) quick follow up to that.  To sum it up – it ended badly.  My handsome advisor never once read my thesis.  I literally turned in what was basically a first draft at my defense and defended that. I had written my thesis in English first because a very generous member of the school’s international staff who does not read Chinese was more or less advising me.  I then translated it into Chinese (50,000 Characters when it was done!) and then I went through it once with a proof reader and then had a Chinese student from the Law department proof read it for me as well.  In spite of this, I still got blasted pretty hard at my defense for an inordinate amount of wrong characters.  Additionally, my defense was pretty rough in large part due to the sensitivity of my topic.  My panel was made up entirely of CCP members and during a thesis defense at a Chinese university, there is a member of the administration who’s job it is to take very thorough notes about who said what during the defense, therefore, given how political my topic was, none of the teachers were willing to go on record as agreeing with me or saying it was well written (it was mediocre, looking back on it…I have no law background, it was dumb of me to pick a law topic).  I passed, but not without what felt like a really long, pointless debate about one of the definitions they claimed I didn’t provide in my thesis.  To back it up a little – my thesis topic was about North Korean refugees in China and the rights they are entitled to under international law, namely the 1951 Refugee Convention that China is a party to. The panel professors maintained that I hadn’t included a “widely accepted” definition of refugee in my thesis.  I was confused because I did, on page 16.  They said it wasn’t “widely accepted.”  I pointed out that it was the definition used by the UN and written into the convention, but then I remembered that China claims to have signed a different version of the Refugee Convention other than the one that the UN officially sanctioned.  So, I lost that battle.  Anyway, so my stupid advisor didn’t even go to my defense, but he showed up afterwards and said “oh hey, so I just saw Xiao Jiaoshou out there and now that I’m looking at your thesis, I see what she was saying about the stuff she wants you to add in.” (They wanted me “add a definition.”) It took everything in me to not stand up and punch him in his handsome face at that moment.  He not only openly admitted to having not even read my thesis, but he saw what they thought was wrong with it and could have told me sooner HAD HE READ THE DAMN THING LIKE HE WAS SUPPOSED TO! I remained calm, but he must have seen murder in my eyes because he beat a retreat and then texted me to ask if I was mad at him. The best part? I resubmitted my thesis to him with the “updates” ie I didn’t change a damn thing except the wrong characters and he “approved” it and my thesis is now sitting in the university archives.  However, after all of that, I did go talk to the administration to tell them about how horrible my advisor was and I tried to suggest that his advising privileges be revoked, but they can’t do that for political reasons…of course.  Word must have gotten back to him because the next time I saw him he told me to stop talking shit about him to people and then said he never wanted to see me again.  By this time, the feeling was more than mutual.  I don’t care how hot he is.

Most of my classmates had advisors who weren’t overly helpful, but all of them at least read their theses.  I thought my advisor would read it if for no other reason to make sure I wasn’t writing something that could get him into trouble. His name goes on it right next to mine and if I had just totally lambasted the Chinese government for not abiding my international law (I could have, but I didn’t), he would have gone down and I would have still graduated and gone home.  What an idiot. Everyone passed their defenses, except one Chinese student who plagiarized almost the entire thing…there’s gotta be at least one every year.

Thoughts on grad school in general-

Obviously, this is the only post-graduate program I’ve done or intend on doing, but I really, really enjoyed it.  I liked the material I was studying and most of our professors were pretty decent, engaging, and interesting to listen to.  However, I did hear the common complaint from many of my classmates that the program wasn’t academically rigorous enough.  I thought that was kind of ridiculous, but given that most of my classmates were quite young – all of them had gone straight from high school to college to graduate school and aside from a bunch of internships, most of them hadn’t held a real job.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, everyone is there at some point in their life, but I think that it kind of skewed their perspective on things.  First, they take school for granted.  You’ll never hear someone who’s been employed at a real job in the real world say something like “I’m so sick of school! I just want to get out and work already!” LOL. School is a piece of cake compared to most jobs, but they wouldn’t know that.

Secondly, it seems that most of them had never fully caught on to the idea of self-discipline or being self-driven.  They were all motivated by nothing much more than grades.  I don’t know about other schools, but this one had an unspoken policy of basically giving everyone a B- or a B+ for the bare minimum with a C being a failing grade and an A being quite rare (for most professors). Many of my classmates regarded this as an excuse to do basically nothing, show up to class having not done the reading and then make a few inane comments to try and sound like they did the reading.  Most papers were written the night before, not proof read and submitted just minutes before the deadline.  They’d get B’s on everything and blame the school for not being hard enough.  It seemed to me that the emphasis should not have been on the grades they received, but for the knowledge they took away by having done the reading, engaged with the professor in a meaningful way and having spent time to do good research for papers and then the time spent working with a proof reader should have been seen as a chance to improve their written Chinese.  Maybe even after having done all of that, the difference in grade might have been an A- vs. the B+ they would have received otherwise, but if going through all of those steps and having learned more is somehow viewed as a waste of time, then I really have to ask what the hell they were doing there in the first place.  My main point here is that probably most people should slow their roll and take some time in between undergrad and grad school to go work, live abroad, learn a trade, do whatever and THEN go to graduate school.  I can speak for myself and the handful of other students who were in their late 20s/early 30s that we were all more focused, our time management skills were much better, we appreciated the opportunity more, and we definitely got more out of the program than some of our younger classmates who may very well have just been burnt out on school.  I think too many people are viewing graduate school as “something to do because I can’t find a job.” I can understand the frustration of not having a job and feeling pressure to be doing something worthwhile with one’s time, but wasting time and money to go to grad school before you’re ready is maybe not the wisest choice.

Anyway…so this turned out to be much longer than I planned.  I need to work on being more succinct.  If anyone stuck with me this whole time, I appreciate it. I’d like to hear thoughts on the “academic rigor” issue from people who may have gone to grad school in the states.  I suspect it’s more or less the same…professors expect you to be academically rigorous without them breathing down your neck.


Human Rights in China – An Analysis of the CCP’s Views

Even though discussion of rights was taking place long before, the emergence of the terms quanli and renquan wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century.[1] Serious discourse of human rights began at the end of the Qing dynasty as scholars were questioning the use of Confucianism in a modern society, with many people equating it to democracy 民主.[2] Many Chinese students were studying abroad and came into contact with western works that gave them new ideas about human rights and individual freedoms. These concepts spoke to the Chinese students who were frustrated with conditions in China and were seeking new ways to improve Chinese society and government.[3] After the fall of the Qing, movements such as the New Culture movement and the May Fourth movement strongly encouraged concepts like 个性解放 and the protecting of individual personality.[4] Once Communism began gaining a foothold in China, the focus of human rights trended more towards economic rights. The necessity of negative and positive rights were seen as being pre-requisites for achieving larger societal goals and a balance between individual and collective interests was needed.[5] By the early 1930s, the GMD and the CCP had both reached the conclusion that human rights were unnecessary, albeit for different reasons. The GMD had labeled human rights as “outmoded, unscientific, and unsuitable to Chinese conditions” while the CCP had determined that human rights only served the bourgeoisie.[6] In the 1940s during the war with Japan, the CCP began voicing support for human rights, using individual rights as a means to gain more support for the CCP over the GMD. Many Chinese saw human rights as necessary for preserving humanity and defeating the Japanese.[7] In an effort to create a presence in an international organization, the GMD sent a representative to sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.[8] Once the CCP took control of Mainland China, the CCP government frequently received criticism from scholars within China and abroad for its human rights violations. The treatment of Tibetans, the violence of the Cultural Revolution, and the quelling of Tiananmen are examples of events that drew negative attention to China. The criticisms received from international bodies regarding human rights were quickly dismissed as being unwarranted interference in China’s internal affairs. In the 1970s, China signed the two human rights covenants, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, China never ratified the ICCPR.[9] The Gang of Four fell and Deng Xiaoping led the charge on new reforms, giving the Chinese hope for improved human rights. China joined the UN and by default, international discussions on human rights and even became a member of the UN Human Rights Commission in 1982. Even though China was an active participate in human rights discourse abroad, the topic remained off limits domestically and was not practiced, as shown by the 1989 Tiananmen incident. China returned to its earlier stance that western countries shouldn’t interfere with Chinese affairs, and denied that anything beyond what other countries do had happened.[10] After the sting of Tiananmen wore off somewhat, human rights did finally become more of a domestic topic. Chinese leadership decided that more research was necessary and that China needed to redefine and strengthen its official human rights policy. The Chinese government began publishing white papers on human rights in 1991[11] and made an official statement at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in 1993.[12] In spite of all this progress, there is still a long way to go and some would argue that the progress has been too slow or negligible. People are still being “disappeared,” freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited, citizens have their land taken away, and forced abortions still occur.[13] Below I will examine a few state sanctioned human rights related documents. Naturally, there is no shortage of counter opinions, but state sanctioned documents and official statements are more relevant to the discussion of how the government views human rights.

A prominent scholar of Human Rights in China is Li Buyun 李步云, who served as the vice-director of the Human Rights Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.[14] Li differentiates the different types of human rights by the ways that they are realized and exist – due rights (应有权利), legal rights (法定权利), and real rights (实有权力).[15] He defines due rights as the rights that people ought to have and that they only exist within the context of social relationships.[16] Legal rights are due rights that have been institutionalized by law. He points out that this doesn’t mean that there are no due rights outside of what has been codified by law. The act of codifying due rights simply ensures enhanced protection of due rights.[17] Real rights are the rights that people actually enjoy.[18] Li distinguishes between the due rights he discusses and the Western concept of natural rights 自然权利. Li believes that the key difference is that natural rights are constructed on a historical basis of idealism and do not take into account the difference between what ought to be and what is.[19]   Li also goes on to say that the origins of natural rights and due rights are different in that natural rights come from human nature and that due rights come from not only human nature, but also from the level of development of human society’s material and spiritual culture.[20] Li states that although human rights correlate to human desires and interests, desires and interests cannot be the sole consideration in determining what human rights are because humans do not live in a state of isolation – there is interaction between other people, groups, and society with an emphasis on property and economic relationships.[21] Li believes that due rights can be in flux and that the existence of due rights varies depending on exact conditions.[22] Furthermore, Li’s analysis of human rights comes from a Marxist standpoint that acknowledges the importance of class in determining the amount of rights that are enjoyed by an individual, whereas natural rights in a Western context are assumed to be universal.[23] Li acknowledges that many countries have large gaps between due rights, even those that are codified by law and real rights. He provides the following reasons for this: the conception of legal institutions and the legal consciousness of a country’s leaders, the level of development of political democratization, the level of development of a commodities economy, and the level of development of society, economy, and culture.[24]

Another document published in 1991, the first White Paper on Human Rights in China seems to follow one of the basic trends of Li Buyun’s paper discussed above. The White Paper emphasized that the most basic human right in China was the right to subsistence 生存权. The paper cited multiple examples of exploitation and violence carried out against the Chinese people by foreign powers that had violated this most basic right and maintained that the Chinese were now trying to secure the right to subsistence before solving other human rights problems.[25] The White Paper goes on to discuss the large number of exorbitant taxes put on Chinese people by corrupt governments throughout history that had also impacted their right to subsistence. Due to China’s relatively recent socialist transformation, the Chinese people were then able to begin concentrating on improving production means and increasing economic growth, this would allow Chinese people to solve the most basic problem of not having the means to subsist. However, since China is still a developing nation, there are limited means to pursue further human rights at this time (1991).[26] The White Paper requests on behalf of the people that the Chinese government continues to maintain national security, improve production, rejuvenate the economy, and improve national strength in order to ensure that the right to subsist will not be threatened.[27] The White Paper shares a couple of common themes with Li Buyun’s analysis – human rights are flexible and can come and go depending on the exact conditions of a country, the emphasis on bigger, national goals rather than individual rights, and the emphasis on economic rights/growth are all present in the White Paper. The Chinese statement made at the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights reinforces these views. Human rights “are closely associated with specific social, political, and economic conditions and the specific history, culture, and values of a particular country. Different historical development stages have different human rights requirements. Countries at different development stages or with different historical traditions and cultural backgrounds also have a different understanding and practice of human rights. Thus, one should not and cannot think of the human rights standard and model of certain countries as the only proper ones and demand all other countries to comply with them.”[28] The speaker, Chinese representative Liu Huaqiu goes on to state that human rights are completely out of the question until poverty and lack of adequate food and clothing are no longer problems.[29] He also emphasizes that individuals are not to put their own interests and rights above those of the state or society and that human rights cannot impede social stability.[30] Liu Huaqiu repeats the earlier Chinese sentiment that human rights are an internal affair and other states have no right to make accusations on the matter or attempt to interfere, as doing so would amount to infringement of another state’s sovereignty and possibly result in instability.[31] Liu praises the UN Human Rights Charter, but states that interference in another country’s human rights conditions is a form of power politics that run counter to the intent of the Charter.[32] He ends the statement by asking other countries to respect China’s right to formulate its own policies on human rights in light of its own internal conditions.[33] Again, this document varies very little from the themes presented by Li Buyun and present within the 1991 White Paper.

More recently, the Chinese government also published their twelfth Five-Year Plan as well as the report on Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012. The Five-Year Plan mentions the term “human rights” only a few times in chapter 55 while referencing promotion of the legal system in a way that would strengthen the guarantee of human rights.[34] The Plan still mostly emphasizes economic growth, expanded production, and wealth disparity and emphasizes environmental concerns and domestic consumption. The guiding principles laid out in chapter 2 include; scientific development, continuing to open up and reform, improve the social welfare system and peoples’ livelihood, promote steady and rapid economic development, and promote social harmony.[35] The document goes on to state in great detail the needed improvements in many areas, but the bottom line of most goals is still the basic right of subsistence. Although the Five-Year Plan mentions human rights, the fact that they are still tied to a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” and “legislation related to accelerating transformation of the economic growth mode” as well as the infrequency with which human rights are mentioned tells us that human rights are not only an after thought, but that they are a means to the ultimate end of securing economic growth. The reference to a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics” could be interpreted to mean that the Chinese legal system will continue to view human rights as derogable, depending on the current conditions of the country. The underlying basis of this document hasn’t deviated much from the documents mentioned earlier from the early 90s.

The Introduction of the report on Progress in China’s Human Rights in 2012 includes again, a strong emphasis on the people’s right to subsistence, “China combines its human rights endeavors with economic, political, cultural, social and ecological construction, prioritizes the people’s rights to subsistence and development, and endeavors to promote the comprehensive and balanced development of their economic, social and cultural rights as well as their civil and political rights.”[36] The report states “China is a developing country with a vast population and fraught with larger regional differences and resource, environmental and ecological strains as well as conspicuous problems from unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development.”[37] From the very beginning of this document, the Chinese government shows that the overwhelming goal of the PRC is economic in nature and the second quote reveals the attitude that perhaps now is not the time to be bringing the issue of human rights to the forefront of all the social issues that China is dealing with, that the conditions are not ripe for human rights. The Report adds that several laws protecting human rights have been added to the Chinese legal frame, such as the addition of “respecting and protecting human rights” to Criminal Procedure Law.[38] There is mention of improving and ensuring the rights of ethnic minorities, access to fair trials, and of improving the conditions and services (legal, counseling, sanitation) available to detainees.   In chapter 6, the commitment to international treaties such as the ICESC and the CAT are reaffirmed and mention is made of the hard work being done to ratify the ICCPR.[39]

The Chinese view of human rights is mostly economic in scope and beyond that, mostly an afterthought for the time being. Chinese leadership seems to view human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, etc as luxuries that only rich, developed nations can afford. That isn’t to say that there hasn’t been major progress in the last few years, but it does mean that China will continue to delay serious thought on the matter at least until some undefined level of prosperity has been reached. This being the case, China probably did not sign international human rights treaties with the intent of never fulfilling them, but rather with the intent of using the same approach the Chinese government uses for any kind of change – slowly, over a period of time and only after thoroughly testing the waters. In the meantime, the emphasis on economic human rights of the Chinese people will continue. Basically, the Chinese government does not currently feel that providing human rights that can be typically found in many Western countries is appropriate for it’s own people due to the potential of negatively impacting economic growth.


[1] 徐显明,“宪法与人权保障,”暸望中国,。(进入2014年2月25日)。





[6] Stephen C. Angle and Marina Svensson, ed., The Chinese Human Rights Reader (New York: East Gate, 2001), xxiv.

[7] 张继良,中共人与中国人立法(北京:中国社会科学出版社,2004),5.

[8] United Nations, “1958-1949 Yearbook of the United Nations,” 1950, (accessed Feb 25, 2014).

[9] 联合国,“人权事务委员会,”联合国人权人权事务高级专员办事处,2013年1月份,。(进入2013年2月25号)。


[11] 中央政府,“政府白皮书,”人民共和国中央人民政府,2005年6月2日,。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[12]  《人权与中国思想》,《财经文摘》2013年2月7日,。

[13] 中国人权,“强烈抗议‘中国再次成为联合国人权理事会成员国,”上海维权人士反中国成为联合国人理事会成 2013年10月25日,。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[14] 广州大学人权研究中心,“个人简历,”中国人, 2010年5月10日,。(进入2014年2月25日)。

[15] 李步云,“论人权的三种存在形态”334










[25] 中央政府,“中国的人权状况,”人民共和国中央人民政府,1991年11月,。(进入2014年2月26日)。



[28] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[29] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[30] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[31] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[32] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[33] Statement to UN World Conference on Human Rights

[34] 5 year plan

[35] 5 year plan

[36] – foreword

[37] – foreword

[38] – ch 2

[39] – ch 6

I got naked with Russian ladies

The best thing about graduate school is having spring break again.  I bet the title of this blog makes it sound like my spring break was pretty crazy, huh?  I’ll explain later.  This year I met up with my husband in Moscow and we spent a few days there before heading to Novgorod and St. Petersburg.  We had a fantastic time and saw Red Square, The Hermitage, a Soviet Video Game Museum, went to the Ballet, stayed at a cat lady’s Soviet Union era apartment, and ate a lot of good food.

This is going to sound stupid, but part of my motivation for going there was to find out if there is any basis for Chinese people constantly thinking I’m Russian.  In my experience, most Russian women in the Chinese cities I’ve lived in so far are prostitutes.  When Chinese person tells me I look Russian, I can’t help but wonder if that means I look like a prostitute. As it turns out, the Chinese are on to something.  Upon landing in Moscow, an airport employee who was addressing everyone else in English, turns to me and starts speaking Russian.  I responded with “Excuse me, I don’t understand.” She pointed me towards a line to get in to go through customs.  I get closer and see that it was the line for Russian Nationals.  I went up to the counter anyway and was berated by the customs agent for being in the wrong line.  I suppose that if Russian people also think I look Russian, then I have no reason to worry about the Chinese thinking that too.  A good portion of the Russian women I saw were all absolutely stunning (something in the water?), so I can’t say I’m offended…but I am confused for sure.  If I had to guess the reason, I would say it’s probably my “bitchy resting face.”  One annoying thing about Americans is that we have this tendency to expect that everyone always be smiling even while doing the most mundane things.  If you don’t, you’re likely to hear idiotic comments like “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” I get this all the time and it’s super annoying.  It’s just my face, OK?!?!  I noticed that Russians don’t seem to have this expectation.  People sit on the subway, order food, read books, walk around all without smiling like idiots, unless they have a reason to.  I think my bitchy resting face causes me to blend in with them and not stand out as a smiley foreigner so much.  I like that and would move to Russia for that reason alone.

After landing at the airport and trying to leave it, the trouble began.  We had planned to take the subway to our hotel.  We managed to get on the aeroexpress from the airport to the subway station in town.  From there, we were supposed to switch to the subway, go two stops, switch to another line and get off two more stops later and walk about 500 meters.  It was supposed to go off without a hitch.  And then the Moscow subway system happened.  Or rather, our expectations of subway systems happened.  We had made the following assumptions: 1. There would be maps of the subway system.  2. These maps would include the English versions of the station names and not just Cyrillic.  3.  Stops where you can switch lines only have one name.  All of those assumptions proved wrong and it ended up taking us nearly 6 hours to finally get to our hotel and it cost us almost $60.  Clearly we did it wrong.  After this, we realized that we had no choice but to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and once we did, our lives got a lot easier because we quickly also realized that trying to ask directions got us no where as it would seem that only about 3 people in Moscow speak English.  I never would have thought that a short trip somewhere would require me to learn another alphabet.  However, this inspired me to start learning Russian this summer when I move back to the states.  I feel an affinity for Russians because of my bitchy resting face and because my Grandma was from Russia (she didn’t have bitchy resting face).

I liked Moscow quite a bit, especially Red Square, but St. Petersburg was amazing.  I had honestly expected Russian food to be gross.  There’s a lot of meat, which I don’t eat, but it turned out to also include a lot of vegetables, cheese, good coffee and loads of wine.  There was also a lot of vodka.  Some restaurants provide a free shot of vodka at the beginning of each meal and I did notice a big difference in quality, you can’t even smell the good vodka and it goes down so much smoother than most of the crap you find in the US. Russian people were also so much friendlier than I expected, given our history and the recent events and tensions over Crimea.  We got lost a lot and anytime we looked like we needed help, someone would take the initiative and try to help us without asking, even if they couldn’t speak English.  A few people went as far as bringing us where we were trying to go.  I was really impressed with how willing they were to help strangers.  I saw lots of instances of people helping each other with bags or strollers on the stairs in the subway and cars even slowed down when it was raining to keep from splashing pedestrians.

The best experience we had there was at the banya.  Banyas are Russian bath houses.  We went to one in St. Petersburg that was one of the last ones to be heated by a huge log fire rather than with gas or electricity.  First, you undress in the front area and then you go into the bathing area where you fill up a pan with water and wash off.  Then you go into the sauna and sweat it out while hitting yourself with birch branches.  I only figured all of this out after all of the Russian ladies at the banya banded together to help me.  We had shown up without towels or soap or anything because it wasn’t originally part of the plan, it just sort of happened.  After the front desk lady realized that, she scrounged up some towels for us.  Then, when I went to the bathing section, I had no idea what to do and some Russian ladies came over and showed me what to do and shared their soaps and shampoos with me.  Then I went in the sauna with the branches, but I was supposed to soak them first in hot water and I hadn’t done that.  Another lady saw that and she brought me back out, got me a pan full of boiling water and put the branches in.  She swished them around a bit and then led me back into the sauna.  She handed the branches back to me and I began my attempt at imitating the Russian ladies in the sauna and slapping myself with the branches.  Everyone laughed at me for doing it wrong and then another lady took the branches out of my hand, laid my towel out on a bench and made me lay down.  She then proceeded to smack the shit out of me with the branches.  I hadn’t been doing it hard enough for their liking.  Or maybe it was just an excuse to beat up an American.  At this point, I had to leave.  The sauna was incredibly hot and I started to get light headed.  A lady saw me go pale and led me out and put me in the cold shower.  She then sat me down on a bench and got me some water to drink.  I felt better soon enough and it was time to head off to the Ballet.  Their willingness to help me understand that bit of Russian culture instead of just going about their own business was really touching.  I don’t often come across foreigners where I live in America, but kindness like that won’t be forgotten and I’ll be sure to pass it on when I have the chance.

A Chinese Correctional Facility

This semester I’m taking a class called Chinese Criminal Law.  It’s by far one of the most interesting classes I’ve taken here.  Professor Zhang provides loads of interesting case examples and likes to ask us how we think the case should have been decided.  Our answers are never right.  No matter how hard we try to think like a Chinese jurist, it’s difficult to break away from western principles of right and wrong and rule of law (which I’m not even sure is a thing in America anymore, pssh).  Chinese cases are typically decided according to political and societal needs at the time, as in what outcome would be more likely to ensure 和谐 (he xie), or harmony.  For example, there was a case in Nanjing relatively recently where an old woman was hit by a guy on a motor bike as she was getting off a bus.  A young man stopped to help her and then she responded by suing him and claiming that he was the one who hit her.  People were appalled that an innocent young man who had tried to help an injured old lady would then become the victim of a greedy lawsuit.  He became a local hero and a symbol of society’s slow descent to hell in a hand basket.  In the end, the young man won and the old lady got nothing in the settlement and as is tradition, she was required to pay all of his legal fees because she brought the suit and lost.  However, she appealed and during the appeal process, new evidence was brought to light.  Text messages were pulled from the young man’s phone that proved his guilt.  He had texted a friend saying “I just hit an old lady on my motorbike, what do I do?”  Even though the court and the judge knew now that the young man was guilty and had in fact hit the old lady as claimed, he still won the appeal and again, the old lady was forced to pay his legal fees.  Why?  Because he was such a hero that the Nanjing Government (the CCP has the power to interfere in the judicial branch and “help” decide cases where “necessary”) was afraid that the people would revolt if the case were overturned or that the impact on society – i.e. people being afraid to help strangers in need (already a problem in China) would not be worth ensuring legal justice.  While that outcome isn’t fair from a western standpoint, that same basic logic can be applied to most cases to try and figure out the logic used in making a verdict.  In most instances, Chinese judges do not publish opinions the way American judges do, so you can usually only guess  at the logic employed.

Aside from taking to us about specific cases, Professor Zhang also brings us on interesting field trips.  The last one was a visit to a Chinese correctional facility 社区矫正.  I use the term “correctional facility,” but it’s not the best translation since it really is quite different from what we would call a correctional facility in America.  Probably a better term would be something like “Community Rectification Program.”  The basic premise is that people convicted of petty crimes like small time theft, running gambling facilities or brothels (I don’t know that I would call that a minor crime, but they do), prostitution, etc don’t go to jail, but participate in a program run by local volunteers in an attempt to draw them back into regular society.  They don’t live in the facility, but rather in their own homes and they still go to work.  The rectification program is carried out in their free time and they have to attend classes like “correct political thinking” or anger management courses.  They do manual labor, but supposedly it’s only small stuff like picking up litter.  The participants have to check in once a week with someone similar to a parole officer and they need permission to leave city limits.  They had an office with a huge screen showing the location of all the people involved in their program.  The person in charge had no problem showing us how the software worked and pulled up several rap sheets to show us that included information like full name, address, phone number, place of employment, and their crimes.  This amused me because that would never happen in America out of fear of invading someone’s privacy.  Oh, China.  I wonder how the individuals who’s private information we were looking at would have felt about that.

I think the premise of the program seemed really good, but as with everything in China, it looks good on the surface, but seemed to have some serious problems floating just under the surface.  The first thing that stuck out to me was the fact that the people teaching anger management and even the “psychologists” were just volunteers (“volunteer” is used loosely here, from how it was explained to me, it seemed more like they’d been voluntold to do it). They had no professional training on these subjects and it seems to me that someone who is dealing with people who might already have mental or emotional issues has the potential to screw them up even worse if they don’t know what they’re doing.  The staff admitted that quite a few of their participants are people who have mental problems or are mentally retarded, rather than actual criminals who do things with criminal intent.

Also, the administration maintained that this program across China has only a .2% recidivism rate, which is suspicious to me.  It makes me think that perhaps the people being put into this program aren’t all criminals and are maybe there for some other reason, like a minor political offense.  Or, because regular police officers from the 公安局 rather than a judge have the power to place people in this system, it’s possible that this is just where they put people who attempt to make political trouble, or maybe even individual cops could send people there who get on their bad side.  In any event, if the recidivism rate is that low, then it probably means that the people who are being targeted by this program are people who are highly unlikely to commit crimes again, rather than the success rate really being that good.  Some experts suspect that this program might also be the replacement for China’s reform through labor program 劳教制度.  The Chinese government made an announcement not too long ago that they were doing away with the RTL program, but a lot of people are suspicious.  This Community Rectification Program has been in testing since about 2003, but wasn’t officially written into the penal code until about 2011.  It’s taken some time for it to get into full swing, but if this program were meant to replace the RTL program, then the timing would be about right.

I feel pretty lucky to have gotten a chance to visit a facility like this.  It’s something that a lot of foreigners don’t get to see, or maybe wouldn’t even be interested in.  One thing that was really funny that I need to point out is how many of my American classmates brought cameras with them.  “Excuse me, minor criminal?  Would you mind taking a picture with me for my Facebook page?”  Of course that didn’t happen, they didn’t let us go in until they had made all of the program participant leave.  The administration was afraid we’d ask them questions, which is interesting.  Like I said, the premise of the program is really good, but little things like that make me think that perhaps there is something to hide.  I sincerely hope that my suspicions are off base and that this program really is helping people.  If that were the case, this would be something we could use in America.  Our prison system sucks and legitimate and sincere attempts to draw people back into regular society would probably do more good than a lot of our current programs.